March 1, 2010
Civil Liberties: The strange things Congress did to extend the Patriot Act
By Jim Babka

Last week, Congress voted to extend three provisions of the so-called U.S.A. P.A.T.R.I.O.T Act (aka Patriot Act) for another year.

You can see how your Representative voted here:

But if you do that you'll think we've sent you to the wrong link. You'll see that the title on the bill is "Medicare Physician Payment Reform Act."

You see, H.R. 3961 originally started with that title and subject, and it passed the House in November. Then, this past Wednesday, Majority Leader Harry Reid ripped the guts out of the bill and replaced it with the Patriot extensions. The Senate then passed that version of the bill and sent it back to the House, where it was approved Thursday night.

Now, you may be asking, where's the link to the Senate roll call vote?

Well, there isn't one. The bill passed by Unanimous Consent, which means a voice vote.

Everything about this process and bill is offensive to . . .

* changing the subject of the bill by amendment violates our One Subject At A Time Act
* there was no 7-day waiting period before votes in either chamber, violating our requirements in the Read the Bills Act
* Congress neither let the provisions expire (our preference), nor reformed the Patriot Act for greater accountability and civil liberties protections

We can, however, mention some good news . . .

* Democrats thwarted Republican attempts to extend the provisions to four years instead of just one
* Rep. Conyers says he's still committed to reforming the Patriot Act this year

Nevertheless, we believe civil libertarians in Congress wasted a great opportunity to roll back or repeal key provisions of the Patriot Act.

Please express your anger and disappointment using our Thank-or-Spank campaign.

You may borrow from or copy the points in this letter . . .

I am sending this letter to my Representative as well as my two Senators, because I am angry at both chambers of Congress.

If Congress had its priorities in order last fall, the Patriot Act could have been reformed, with parts of it repealed. I am angry that you chose to bicker over less-urgent healthcare reform and let this issue slide until it was too late.

I am particularly disgusted that the Senate rushed to extend the three expiring Patriot Act provisions by voice vote. Could not one Senator have objected and forced a debate and roll call vote?

Furthermore, while I'm happy these provisions have not yet been made permanent, I wonder why Congress hasn't ever taken the time to . . .

* consider their Constitutionality
* determine their effectiveness
* investigate abuses

These abuses are important. They undermine trust in the federal government.  You'll be interested to know that 56% of Americans view the government as a threat to their rights.

To regain the trust of the American people, Congress MUST start respecting the limits on federal power expressed in the Bill of Rights. This means reforming and, better yet, repealing the Patriot Act. I insist you get to work right away to restore the rights and liberties of the American people.


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James Wilson
Assistant Communications Director

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