WASHINGTON - After a long battle with Congress that went down to the wire President Bush will sign a renewal of the USA Patriot Act, a day before 16 major provisions of the old law expire.
Republicans are declaring victory over the extension of the antiterror law, which Bush is signing Thursday. The GOP wants to burnish its national security credentials before the midterm elections, working to balance continuing violence in Iraq with controversy over the eavesdropping program.
The legislation passed Tuesday evening in the House after several months of debate on Capitol Hill over how to balance Americans' right to privacy with a need to foil potential terrorist threats. Political battles over the legislation forced Congress to twice extend the expiration date of the Patriot Act.
The 280-138 vote was just two votes more than needed under House rules requiring a two-thirds majority to pass legislation handled on an expedited basis.
A simple majority would have been enough if the measure had been held on the calendar for a few more days, but that could have run the risk of some provisions of the old law expiring before the replacement took place.
The legislation renews the expiring provisions of the original Patriot Act, including one that lets federal officials obtain "tangible items," such as business records, from libraries and bookstores, in connection with foreign intelligence and international terrorism investigations.
Other provisions clarify that foreign intelligence or counterintelligence officers should share information obtained as part of a criminal investigation with counterparts in domestic law enforcement agencies.
Yet another provision is designed to strengthen port security by imposing strict punishments on crew members who impede or mislead law enforcement officers trying to board their ships.
To get the legislation renewed, Bush was forced to accept new curbs on the Patriot Act's powers.
-Giving people who receive court-approved subpoenas that seek information in terrorist investigations the right to challenge a requirement that they refrain from telling anyone.
-Eliminating a requirement that individuals give the FBI the names of lawyers they consult about National Security Letters that investigators issue demanding records.
-Clarifying that most libraries are not subject to demands in those letters for information about suspected terrorists.