A vote in Congress to extend three controversial provisions of the Patriot Act through December 8 failed last week, but it was primarily over procedural issues. Those technicalities should be resolved this month, permitting a new vote that will result in passage. 26 House Republicans voted against the extension, joining 122 Democrats to defeat it by seven votes. The final vote came to 277-148, which was not enough since the Republicans brought the bill up under a special expedited procedure requiring a two-thirds majority. The Republicans had miscalculated and assumed they had two-thirds of the votes required for a rush bill that bypasses House rules. They did not expect the majority of Democrats to switch their votes this year and vote against an extension. Republicans have until February 28th, when the Patriot Act expires, to bring it up for a simple majority vote without the special expedited procedure. From there it goes to the Senate, which has three competing bills to consider.
President Obama is expected to sign the bill, but he wants it extended through December of 2012 in order to avoid it becoming an election year issue. Obama’s left wing Democratic base opposes the Patriot Act. A majority of Congressional Democrats voted against it because it did not include Obama’s additional year. Last year, a similar extension easily passed the Democratic-controlled House 315-97. 36 Democrats switched their vote this year. Obama’s position has been just as inconsistent as House Democrats. In 2003, Obama said in a political questionnaire he would vote to repeal the Patriot Act, according to Fox News. As U.S. Senator, Obama voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act in 2006. When he ran for President in 2008, Obama heavily criticized the Patriot Act and said he would revise it with “real and robust oversight.”
Congress passed the Patriot Act in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. It authorizes the government to take antiterrorist measures. Critics say it violates constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, allowing the government too much power to spy on Americans without their knowledge. However, much of the current criticism fails to acknowledge that significant portions of the Patriot Act have been revised to address those concerns.