This was a vote on legislation to extend for one year several expiring provisions of the anti-terrorism law known as the USA PATRIOT Act.
Specifically, the House voted on Senate amendments to H.R. 3961. The Senate had inserted the extensions of anti-terrorism provisions into an unrelated bill (H.R. 3961). If the House were to agree to those amendments, the legislation would be cleared for the president's signature.
The legislation would extend a provision allowing the federal government to seek court orders for records relating to to a terrorism investigation, as well as a provision providing for wiretaps on terrorism suspects. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), the chairman of the committee that drafted the bill, urged support for the legislation and reminded members that it could still be revisited at a later date: "Please understand, Members, that this extension is not the final word on the PATRIOT Act, and what we will do is use the time between now and the year that will elapse to improve and pass real reform. Now, while I would prefer to do this now, it is not to me strategically wise nor logistically possible to accomplish this at this time. And with the provisions expiring in a matter of 3 days, the other body has sent us this extension bill, so there is no reasonable possibility that they could pass a broader measure such as a Judiciary-passed bill at this time."
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) urged passage of the bill: "The Senate amendments to H.R. 3961 extend for 1 year several expiring provisions essential to our fight against terrorism….The Senate amendments we are considering today will extend for 1 year a provision first enacted in 2004 that allows the government to apply to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court, the FISA court, for surveillance orders involving suspected lone wolf targets. These are suspects who are engaging in or preparing for international terrorism activities, but don't necessarily have ties to a larger organization, such as a terrorist group or a foreign nation. The provision does not apply to any U.S. citizen or illegal immigrant. These three programs are vital tools our Nation cannot let expire."
Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) praised the legislation, arguing it was vital to national security: "The safety of this Nation, protecting America from terrorists, is of high and vital concern not only to this Member, but I think every single Member, as we have been reminded time after time that we cannot take our eye off the ball, that the security of this country is a job that must be done all day, every day, by a group of savvy professionals that I believe we presently have in this country. It is a combined effort of not only law enforcement and intelligence, but also it involves bright minds from this body also."
A number of Democrats opposed the bill on the grounds that the legislation needed to be amended to protect Americans' civil liberties. Rep. Jerold Nadler (D-NY) said, during debate on the bill: "I regret that we are not going to continue this process of improving the PATRIOT Act. I regret we do not have before us a very short-term extension designed to give us more time to finish this work in the balance of this Congress. But we are punting to the next Congress, which for all practical purposes means that we are extending the PATRIOT Act unchanged for the indefinite future. I believe that our Nation and our liberties will suffer as a result of this. I hope that this vote today, contrary to what I expect, will not stop my colleagues from continuing to improve our intelligence-gathering laws, and specifically continuing to examine and improve the PATRIOT Act in a timely manner."
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) concurred: "Mr. Speaker, in 2001, I voted against the USA PATRIOT Act because it granted law enforcement powers too broad, too removed from oversight, and at the expense of Americans' civil rights. I am disappointed that H.R. 3961 simply extends three of these provisions without any additional protections or oversight. [These provisions include a secret FISA court that grants warrants for wiretaps without requiring the government to identify the target of those wiretaps; a provision authorizing the FISA court to grant warrants allowing the government to obtain business records, which include medical records; and the so-called “lone wolf” provision, which authorizes the FISA court to issue warrants allowing the government to monitor an individual even if that individual is not known to be an “agent of a foreign power.”] This a missed opportunity to rebalance the need to pursue violent extremists with the need to respect our own citizens. Continuing to allow the government to obtain ``any tangible thing'' relevant to a terrorism investigation, including library records, is a disturbingly low bar. We can do better. Committees in the House and Senate have offered drafts to improve the PATRIOT Act, and I strongly suggest that we move forward immediately to amend this law."
The House agreed to the Senate amendments by a vote of 315-97. 162 Democrats and 153 Republicans voted "yea." 87 Democrats -- including a majority of the most progressive members -- and 10 Republicans voted "nay." As a result, the House passes legislation to extend for one year several expiring provisions of the anti-terrorism law known as the USA PATRIOT Act -- and thus cleared the measure for President Obama's signature.