Leahy: Committee Should Vote On PATRIOT Act Legislation March 3

WASHINGTON (Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011) – Consideration of legislation to extend expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act was further delayed Thursday, after Judiciary Committee Republicans raised last minute objections to considering the previously-reported legislation.  Committee debate on the bill will now be delayed another two weeks.

“The USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act is virtually identical in substance to legislation approved by a bipartisan majority of the Senate Judiciary Committee last Congress,” said Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).  “It was first announced three weeks ago that the Committee would consider this bill.  Eleventh hour requests for additional briefings serve only one purpose: to delay consideration of legislation that both Republicans and Democrats believe is critical to national security.”

The USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act of 2011 mirrors a bipartisan agreement reached in the last Congress to address the expiring intelligence-gathering authorities and increase oversight.  A bipartisan majority of the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to send similar legislation to the full Senate in October 2009.  That bill was backed by the Obama administration.  The Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence wrote to congressional leaders endorsing the bill.  During Thursday’s meeting, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein restated her support for the USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act.

“The Judiciary Committee held eight hearings in the 111th Congress at which the USA PATRIOT Act was discussed,” Leahy said.  “Senior law enforcement and intelligence officials have been available to brief Senators about the USA PATRIOT Act, in both classified and unclassified sessions.  This legislation builds on the progress Congress has already made in considering these important extensions and reforms.”

Today, the House of Representatives passed a measure approved earlier this week by the Senate to extend the expiring authorities of the USA PATRIOT Act until May 27.  Legislation will need to pass both chambers of Congress before the new deadline.  Leahy assured Judiciary Committee Senators he would work to facilitate additional briefings, but urged the Committee to not further delay debate of the legislation.

“The short-term extension now in effect is, in fact, very short,” said Leahy.  “This Committee must consider USA PATRIOT Act legislation, and send it to the full Senate, where the Majority Leader has promised a floor debate.  We cannot afford undue delays. The USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act will top our agenda on March 3.  I hope Senators will finally be prepared to vote on the bill.”

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