As I noted yesterday, the Senate passed cloture, by a 74-8 margin, on the motion to proceed for a four-year extension of key provisions of the Patriot Act. Final passage is expected Wednesday, so for a seminal civil liberties issue that has been in place nearly ten years, we will see essentially one day of debate in the Senate. As Glenn Greenwald points out, there is still bipartisanship in Washington when something like depriving civil liberties in the name of Terror has to get done. We may have killed Osama bin Laden, but we have yet to slay the Boogeyman.

The eight votes against the motion to proceed were Jeff Merkley, Mark Begich, Max Baucus, and John Tester, and GOP Senators Lisa Murkowski, Rand Paul, and Dean Heller. Mark Udall, who sent out a petition on reforming the Patriot Act just yesterday, voted yes on the motion to proceed. So did Senate Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy, who consistently has sought reforms, however minor. However, Leahy and Rand Paul are teaming up to try and add some reforms.

The Leahy-Paul amendment introduced by the Kentucky Republican and the Vermont Democrat would have National Security Letters expire on Dec. 31, 2013. It also requires the Justice Department inspector general to audit the issuance of NSL letters and expands public reporting on the use of such letters under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

“We were so frightened after 9/11 that we readily gave up these freedoms,” Paul said. “Not only would I let these expire, but I think we should sunset the entire PATRIOT Act.”

“You can be opposed to terrorists … but we can do it with a process that protects the innocent,” Paul said.

These really are the bare minimum reforms. But all that this minority of opponents has going for them is time. These three provisions expire on Friday, and Senators like Paul could hold up passage for some time by forcing all post-cloture time to be used. This is basically his plan, and establishment, fear-worshipping Senators like Dianne Feinstein warned him about blood on his hands:

Freshman Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a vocal critic of the counter-terrorism surveillance law, threatened Monday to “drag out” the process if Reid fails to hold votes on some of the nine amendments Paul introduced or co-sponsored on Monday. Paul, a libertarian-minded tea-party senator, noted that Reid had promised earlier this year to set aside a week’s worth of debate on the bill and allow votes on amendments.

“We’re not going to get the week, but we’re working on still trying to get a discussion and amendments to the Patriot Act. …” Paul told reporters just off the Senate floor. “We’ll just have to wait and see.” [...]

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said “it remains to be seen” how Senate leaders will handle Paul’s amendments. But she warned against any political maneuvering that would slow down or derail the bill, which grants a four-year extension to key Patriot Act provisions.

“I think it would be a huge mistake,” Feinstein told reporters. If somebody wants to take on their shoulders not having provisions in place which are necessary to protect the United States at this time, that’s a big, big weight to bear.”

As Glenn notes, that’s truly an ugly response, the kind of establishment bullying we’ve seen for the last decade on measures of “national security.” It’s come from both parties, and anyone who dares not get with the program gets accused of helping The Terrorists.

At best, Paul and Leahy could drag out debate until Friday, the day that these provisions expire. Clearly they don’t have the votes to do much else. But that does start to run out the clock on passage. So we’ll see if they get their votes.