House Votes to Extend Patriot Act

The Republican-led House of Representatives voted on Monday to extend expiring surveillance provisions of the anti-terrorism Patriot Act, overcoming unanticipated early opposition.

On a largely party-line vote of 275-144 vote, the House sent the measure -- a proposed nine-month renewal of three provisions set to expire in two weeks -- to the Democratic-led Senate for consideration.

The action came a week after House Republican leaders failed to get the bill approved under a fast-track approach normally reserved for non-controversial issues.

They came up seven votes short of the needed two-thirds majority because of the unexpected scope of opposition that included 26 Republicans, a number of whom are backed by the anti-establishment Tea Party, and 122 Democrats. Foes complained the provisions amount to a federal over reach.

Initial defeat surprised Republican leaders and forced them to bring the bill back under normal procedures that require just a simple majority to prevail but takes more time.

The Patriot Act became law after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Expiring provisions permit: obtaining roving wiretaps on suspected terrorists who switch their mode of communications; tracking foreigners who may have loose ties to militants but are acting as "lone wolves" in plotting attacks, and accessing certain business records.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, a Republican, helped rally support for renewing the provisions.

"Numerous terrorist attempts in the last ten years have been thwarted thanks to the intelligence-gathering tools provided in the Patriot Act and other national security laws," Smith said.

"If Congress fails to extend the provisions set to expire on February 28th, it will be on our shoulders if the intelligence needed to stop the next attack is not collected," Smith warned.

The Obama administration said while it would support the nine-month extension in the House bill, it would prefer reauthorization through December 2013 as has been proposed by Senate Democrats.

Senate Republicans are pushing for a permanent extension to provide law enforcement long-term certainty about what tools they will have to track suspected terrorists.

The House and Senate must move quickly to send a final bill to Obama to sign into law before the provisions expire.