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December 21, 2005
The Procrastinator's Ball

Late word out of Washington has the Senate ready to pass a six-month extension to Patriot Act that puts off a fight over the more controversial sections of the law. With time running out on the sunset provisions of Patriot, the Democrats wanted a three-month window and the Republicans wanted a full year -- which would have pushed the expiration past the next election. Instead, the Senate split the difference:

The Senate neared passage of a six-month extension of the USA Patriot Act Wednesday night, hoping to avoid the expiration of law enforcement powers deemed vital to the war on terror. ...

The extension gives critics — who successfully filibustered a House-Senate compromise that would have made most of the law permanent — more time to seek civil liberty safeguards in the law. Democrats and their allies had originally asked for a three-month extension, and the Senate's Republican majority had offered a one-year extension. The final deal split the difference.

"For a lot of reasons, it made the most sense, given that there are significant differences that remain," said GOP Sen. John Sununu of New Hampshire, one of a small group of Republicans who joined with Senate Democrats to filibuster a House-Senate compromise.

"I think this is a reasonable conclusion," said Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Let's review the many levels of stupidity on display in this action.

1) The joint committee had already worked out a compromise, one that the House had already approved with a healthy bipartisan vote before it left for its recess. With the House gone until January, the Act will expire anyway, unless the Speaker can recall the members in large enough numbers to review the new legislation from the Senate in time to pass it. Do we think that the Act's opponents in Congress might act to prevent a quorum? You bet they will if they think they can get away with it.

2) Instead of working out their problems with the Act in 2005 outside of the pressures of electioneering, now we will get even more grandstanding on both sides about the Patriot Act during the primary season in 2006. How does that help get us the proper legislation we need for the defense of America without unnecessary infringement of civil liberties? In fact, we will probably wind up fighting to a draw yet again, postponing the inevitable for another six months when the geniuses in the Senate finally realize the political significance of a June 30, 2006 expiration.

3) Speaking of putting things off, why did the Senate and the House wait until the very last minute to get this done? The GOP has talked about Patriot Act renewal since last year -- but no Democrat wanted to do it during an election year. (Not then, anyway.) The topic has come up at various times all year, but no one did any heavy lifting on the effort until the Act had almost expired. All of a sudden, the House and Senate discovered the Patriot Act, and the Democrats suddenly discovered that it had turned America into a police state. Does that make any sense? Of course it doesn't. If it's as bad as they say it is, why allow it to continue even another six months? More importantly, why didn't the Democrats push for it to come to the floor earlier for debate?

Now we have a compromise among the members of the Upper Chamber that forces the Lower Chamber to come back into session -- and the Senate will bug out well before the Representatives can form their quorum to take up the new compromise, giving the House a take-it-or-leave-it option. And in six months, we get to watch them do this all over again. Some compromise. Some Senate.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 21, 2005 9:02 PM

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