The Senate will vote later today on a motion to proceed to S.1038 which would extend three expiring provisions of the Patriot Act for four years, with almost no debate. As David Waldman notes, this is the third cloture vote on a motion to proceed in the last four legislative days in the Senate, showing that the “gentlemen’s agreement” to no longer filibuster the motion to proceed is dead and buried. But in this case, those inclined to vote against cloture actually want a real debate on these expiring provisions. Here’s Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR):
Senator Jeff Merkley says he was very concerned when he heard Thursday Senate leaders would move to close debate Monday on a package extending three Patriot Act rules.
Jeff Merkley: “I think it’s outrageous that there’s a proposal for a four-year extension in which the intention is to have no significant debate on the floor of the Senate, and no opportunity for amendments.” [...]
Merkley says he isn’t sure if the extensions will pass, but notes some of his colleagues sounded unhappy about the parliamentary move used to forestall more debate.
Jeff Merkley: “ There is some chance that reaction may be strong enough to change that and turn this into a real debate. Leadership may say we have other things to get to by next Friday. My reaction is we’ve had plenty of time to have a thorough debate on the floor.”
There are three provisions at issue. One, roving wiretaps that allow broad electronic surveillance from the FBI on any phone line or communications device. Two, the ability to access business, medical or virtually all other records of any suspect, regardless of the relationship to terrorism. Three, the “lone wolf” provision to allow surveillance of people with no ties to a terrorist group. Earlier this year, the Congress extended these provisions for 90 days. That expires on Friday.
In addition to Merkley, Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) opposes the quick reauthorization without debate. He sent an email to his supporters asking for them to sign a petition calling for the reform of the Patriot Act.
Benjamin Franklin once said that any society that would give up essential liberties to pursue security deserves neither and will lose both. Those words ring true today [...]
But while many of the PATRIOT Act’s provisions — which I support — have made our nation safer since the devastating terrorist attacks of 9/11, there are three provisions that fail to strike the right balance between keeping us safe while protecting the privacy rights of Coloradans. Instead, these three provisions have been far too susceptible to abuse by the federal government, even in the name of keeping us safe from terrorism [...]
These three provisions are troubling because they are ripe for abuses that involve expansive government surveillance of innocent people, even though common sense fixes and protections exist if only we were allowed to debate them.
Congress has approved the Patriot Act multiple times without any material statutory improvements. Udall cites “what I’ve learned from my Senate committee service” in saying that these provisions reach too far into the lives of private citizens. Keep in mind that he’s on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The House may end up the tougher lift for the extension, because of dozens of Republicans who previously voted against a longer-term extension. Despite the objections of Merkley, Udall and others, the Senate is likely to at least advance on the motion to proceed today. This would set them up for final passage Wednesday, giving the House just 48 hours to get their version of the bill done.
UPDATE: The Senate passed cloture 74-8, so they’ll proceed to the bill. Final passage is expected Wednesday.