PATRIOT Act 10th anniversary discussion thread

Ten years ago today, President George W. Bush signed a bill called the “United and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism,” better known as the PATRIOT Act. It’s a good time to reflect on the law’s impact as well as how the Iowans in Congress voted on its provisions over the last decade.

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Iowa delegation split on PATRIOT Act extension (updated)

Hours before three controversial PATRIOT Act provisions were set to expire, Congress approved a bill extending the provisions until June 1, 2015. At the Open Congress blog, Donny Shaw summarized the legal points:

They include the authority for “roving” wiretaps that allows the government to monitor computers that may occasionally be used by suspected terrorists, the “tangible records provision” that requires banks, telecoms and libraries to hand over any customer information the government requests without being allows to inform the customer, and the “lone wolf” provision allowing the government to track terrorists acting independently of any foreign power or organization.

Congress approved a three-month extension of those provisions in February. The bill that just passed was a compromise between House Republican and Senate Democratic leaders who disagreed on how far to extend the powers. A House bill would have extended the “lone wolf” authority permanently and the others for six and a half years. A Senate bill would have extended all three powers until the end of 2013.

Many senators have complained that the PATRIOT Act provisions in question undermine civil liberties, but few had the stomach to filibuster the bill when the Senate considered a motion to proceed on May 23. Iowans Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley were among the 74 senators voting for considering the PATRIOT Act extension (roll call). Just eight senators voted to filibuster this bill; another 18 senators did not vote on the motion to proceed.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid used a legislative maneuver to block various amendments seeking to reform the PATRIOT Act from receiving votes on the floor yesterday. The Senate voted on just two amendments, both submitted by Republican Rand Paul. Motions to table those amendments passed with overwhelming majorities, 91 to 4 and 85 to 10. Both Harkin and Grassley voted to table Paul’s amendments.

Harkin and Grassley disagreed on final passage of the bill, however, as they did when the last extension came to a vote in February. Grassley was among 72 senators voting for the four-year PATRIOT Act extension; Harkin was among the 23 voting against it (roll call).

The bill then went to the House for consideration. After some debate it passed on Thursday evening by a vote of 250 to 153. The roll call shows that Democrat Leonard Boswell (IA-03) and Republicans Tom Latham (IA-04) and Steve King (IA-05) all voted yes, while Democrats Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) voted no, with the majority of their caucus. Quite a few House members crossed party lines on this bill; 31 Republicans voted no, while 54 Democrats voted yes. Iowa’s House delegation split the same way in February when the three-month PATRIOT Act extension passed.

After the House voted to concur with the Senate amendment to the bill, the PATRIOT Act extension went to President Barack Obama’s desk. Because the president is in France, White House officials said Obama signed the bill before midnight using some kind of “autopen” machine. That’s the first I ever heard of that technology.

After the jump I’ve posted a memo from Grassley on the PATRIOT Act extension, which the Republican senator’s office sent to the media on Thursday evening. At this writing I have not seen press releases on this vote from Harkin, Braley, Loebsack, Boswell, Latham or King.

Glenn Greenwald wrote a good post on the cynicism of Democrats who have been using the Republican talking points of yesteryear to browbeat colleagues into rubber-stamping the PATRIOT Act extension.

UPDATE: Added King’s press release on this vote after the jump.

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Sneaking the PATRIOT Act through

This week, with so much at stake for our civil liberties, Demand Progress is calling on Senate Leadership to listen to more than 80,000 of our members who demand reform of the Patriot Act.

This Friday and bin Laden's recent death, present our lawmakers with the opportunity to restore our civil liberties. We at Demand Progress have not seen the proper attention paid by lawmakers to implications that the PATRIOT Act has for our nation and our culture.  We believe that if we wish to live in a nation of liberty and justice a law like the PATRIOT Act cannot become a permanent fixture in our national character. Please join your voice to ours and sign our petition to Congress (http://act.demandprogress.org/obl_patriot).

Both Democrats and Republicans are seeking to extend provisions of the Act without any meaningful or critical discussion on their merits.  An amendment extending warrantless wiretaps and “lone wolf” surveillance has been attached to a bill supporting small businesses, in response to Rand Paul’s filibustering a debate-less extension of the Act.

The values of America are based on liberty and freedom, not fear. Let Congress know you still believe this.

Sign our petition here. (http://act.demandprogress.org/obl_patriot)

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Osama Bin Laden Is Dead, But Will The Patriot Act Live On?

The Patriot Act is (again) up for renewal this month. Now remember, it was initially enacted as a supposedly-temporary measure in the wake of 9-11, but more and more of it keeps getting made permanent and the rest has been continually extended for the past decade. With the death of Bin Laden, it's finally time for Congress to bring back the pre-9-11 legal norm, before we decided it was OK to toss out our civil liberties if the “bad guys” were scary enough.
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Unusual split in Iowa delegation as House scraps wasteful jet engine funding

In a surprising victory for common sense over lobbying by major defense contractor General Electric, the House of Representatives on February 16 scrapped funding for an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter backup engine the Pentagon doesn’t want.  The amendment to the continuing resolution on defense funding for the current fiscal year passed on an unusual bipartisan vote; 123 Democrats and 110 Republicans voted to kill the $450 million appropriation, while 130 Republicans and 68 Democrats voted to keep money for the jet engine in the bill (roll call). Democrat Bruce Braley (IA-01) was the only member of the Iowa House delegation to vote for ending the funding. He should cite this vote as evidence that he is serious about tackling government waste. Democrats Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and Leonard Boswell (IA-03) and Republicans Tom Latham (IA-04) and Steve King (IA-05) all voted against the amendment. They should explain why they want to spend $450 million this fiscal year to continue a program that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has called “a waste of nearly $3 billion.”

Loebsack serves on the House Armed Services Committee. Boswell used to serve on that committee but no longer does in the new Congress.

In other Congressional news, the U.S. Senate approved a three-month extension for controversial PATRIOT Act provisions on February 15 by a vote of 86 to 12. Senator Chuck Grassley voted yes, as did all but two of his Republican colleagues. Senator Tom Harkin was among ten members of the Democratic caucus to vote no (roll call). Harkin’s office did not issue a statement on this vote and did not respond to my request for comment, so I don’t know whether he is against all efforts to extend those controversial PATRIOT Act provisions, or whether he would support Senator Pat Leahy’s bill to extend the provisions through 2013 with “additional safeguards to the act which would provide for increased oversight of U.S. Intelligence gathering tools.” Grassley has introduced a rival Senate bill that would permanently extend the government surveillance powers.  

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Iowa delegation split as House passes PATRIOT Act extension

The House of Representatives passed an extension of three PATRIOT Act provisions yesterday by a vote of 275 to 144. The roll call shows that Republicans Tom Latham (IA-04) and Steve King (IA-05) voted for the bill, as did all but 27 members of their caucus. Leonard Boswell (IA-03) was among 65 Democrats voting for the extensions, while Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) voted with the majority of the Democratic caucus against the bill.

Iowa’s representatives voted the same way last week when a similar measure failed to win the two-thirds majority needed for passage under special House rules.

Open Congress summarized the bill as follows:

Extends three provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act that are set to expire on February, 28, 2011. They include the authority for “roving” wiretaps that allows the government to monitor computers that may occasionally be used by suspected terrorists, the “tangible records provision” that requires banks, telecoms and libraries to hand over any customer information the government requests without informing the customer, and the “lone wolf” provision allowing the government to track international terrorist groups. These would be extended straight up — i.e. no reforms — and would expire again under the bill on December 8, 2011.

According to the Washington Post, senators “are debating three competing proposals that would either permanently extend the [PATRIOT Act] provisions or extend them through 2013.”

UPDATE: The U.S. Senate approved a three-month extension for controversial PATRIOT Act provisions on February 15 by a vote of 86 to 12. Senator Chuck Grassley voted yes, as did all but two of his Republican colleagues. Senator Tom Harkin was among ten members of the Democratic caucus to vote no (roll call). Harkin’s office did not issue a statement on this vote and did not respond to my request for comment, so I don’t know whether he is against all efforts to extend those controversial PATRIOT Act provisions, or whether he would support Senator Pat Leahy’s bill to extend the provisions through 2013with “additional safeguards to the act which would provide for increased oversight of U.S. Intelligence gathering tools.” Grassley has introduced a rival Senate bill that would permanently extend the government surveillance powers.  

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