Congress Adjourns, Extending Patriot Act

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Congress has wrapped up its work for the year and lawmakers have officially gone home for the holidays. Congress approved a five-week extension of the Patriot Act and cleared the way for a defense spending bill that includes more than $450 billion for the Pentagon and $29 billion for aid to victims of the Gulf Coast hurricanes.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

Congress has wrapped up its work for the year and lawmakers have officially gone home for the holidays. The final bit of business was completed last night when the Senate went along with the House and agreed to a five-week extension of the Patriot Act. Lawmakers also gave final approval to a measure funding the Pentagon and aid to victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita as NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR reporting:

For all of the drama that surrounded the actions of Congress in this past week, last night's curtain was a bit of an anticlimax. Republican John Warner of Virginia, the only senator present, gaveled the session closed after less than two minutes.

Senator JOHN WARNER (Republican, Virginia): In my capacity as a senior senator from Virginia, I ask unanimous consent the Senate now stand in adjournment, sine diem, under the provisions of H. Con. Res. 326.

(Soundbite of gavel; applause)

NAYLOR: The tepid applause from the Senate staff may have reflected the exhaustion felt by those in Congress after the past several days, from a weekend session that stretched until dawn last Monday through a procession of late nights, tense negotiations and close votes that seemed as though the first session of the 109th Congress might never end. The final wrinkle came yesterday when House Judiciary Committee Chairman Republican James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin blocked a six-month extension of the Patriot Act approved by the Senate Wednesday. Provisions of the measure were set to expire at the end of the year, but Sensenbrenner said that six months was too long.

Representative JAMES SENSENBRENNER (Republican, Wisconsin): The fact is is that a six-month extension, in my opinion, would have simply allowed the Senate to duck the issue until the last week in June. Now they came pretty close to wreaking everybody's Christmas. I didn't want to put the entire Congress in the position of them wreaking everybody's Independence Day.

NAYLOR: House and Senate negotiators thought they had agreed on a revision addressing some of the concerns of lawmakers that the measure, passed quickly after the attacks of 9/11, gave too much weight to national security and not enough to civil liberties. But Senate Democrats and four Republicans believed the new version still didn't address those concerns and mounted a filibuster. The extension puts off a decision on how to further change the measure. Sensenbrenner, though, is in no mood to reopen negotiations on the compromise or, as it's called in Congress, the conference report.

Rep. SENSENBRENNER: The Senate is going to have to make some decisions. There should be an up or down vote on whether this carefully crafted conference report with more than 30 additional safeguards for civil liberties is going to become the law of the United States of America or whether we are going to continue extending a law which the people who filibustered the conference report have criticized. They can't have it both ways.

NAYLOR: That will be a battle for next month. The House did go along with another major measure the Senate modified on Wednesday, one funding the Department of Defense. The Senate removed a provision that would have opened the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. The bill provides more than $450 billion to the Pentagon and it includes $29 billion for assistance to victims of the Gulf Coast hurricanes, a bit of bipartisan goodwill in a year that has seen precious little of it.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.

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