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Patriot Act gets one-month extension

Congress has until February to agree on controversial powers



White House
George W. Bush

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate briefly convened Thursday and passed a bill extending controversial provisions of the USA Patriot Act just a few hours after the House voted to extend them for one month, five months fewer than the Senate proposed Wednesday night.

The White House said President Bush will sign the bill.

The Patriot Act, passed after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, provided the government with wider surveillance and prosecutorial powers to use against suspected terrorists. Some critics of the act, however, say the measure goes too far in eroding civil liberties guaranteed in the Constitution.

The act's 16 controversial provisions, set to expire at year's end, would remain in effect until February 3 with the president's signature. Failure to pass the bill could have led to the first special session of Congress in more than 70 years. (Read about the provisions)

The original House version of the bill, which would have extended the provisions and altered some of them, was scuttled by a Senate filibuster last week. That forced senators to reach a compromise that extended the 16 controversial provisions for six months so the act could be retooled. The senators said they would take up the matter when they return from their break in January.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, trimmed the extension to one month Thursday and criticized the Senate for trying to "duck the issue until the last week in June."

"They came pretty close to wrecking everybody's Christmas. I didn't want to put the entire Congress in the position of them wrecking everybody's Independence Day," Sensenbrenner said.

Now the bill awaits the signature of President Bush, who had said he wanted the key provisions of the legislation renewed and would veto a three-month extension. But a senior White House official said Thursday the president would approve the even shorter extension.

If the Senate had rejected Sensenbrenner's proposal, Bush was prepared to call lawmakers back to Capitol Hill for the first congressional special session since the Franklin Roosevelt administration in 1933.

Sensenbrenner said he would have preferred no extension at all. But he agreed to Thursday's bill to avoid a special session.

The bill will give lawmakers about five weeks to revisit a bill that would have made 14 of the 16 expiring provisions permanent and extended two others until 2009 -- the bill stalled by the Senate filibuster. (Read about Bush's reaction to the filibuster)

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-California, the House minority leader, did not oppose the bill. However, she expressed disappointment that the House didn't provide more time to examine it.

"The rights of our citizens, as guaranteed by the Constitution, should not be shoehorned into a tight timeframe," she said in a statement. "We should have the time for a vigorous and thorough debate."

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, said that the time allotted to review the bill was less important than "improving the Patriot Act to strike the right balance in respecting Americans' liberty and privacy while protecting their security."

Many Democrats have said that there needs to be more focus on protecting civil liberties.

Sensenbrenner is now calling on the Senate to approve or kill the stalled bill, which he says contains more than 30 additional safeguards to protect civil liberties.

"They're going to have to make up their mind which way to go by the third of February," he said of the Senate.

The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act was passed overwhelmingly by Congress as a counter-terrorism measure after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. While most of its provisions are permanent, a few were designed to expire at the end of 2005 unless Congress voted to extend them.

CNN's Elaine Quijano contributed to this report.

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