Congress is not likely to revisit the USA Patriot Act this year despite President Bush’s plea for action in his State of the Union address. The New York Times notes that the law’s key provisions do not expire until late next year and that Bush’s mention of the subject this week “caught many lawmakers off guard.”
“I’d say he’s about a year early,” said Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa and a leading member of the judiciary committee. “If I were running for president, I wouldn’t have brought it up now.” Grassley and other members of Congress said that while the antiterrorism act included some important law enforcement tools worth keeping, it was so far-reaching that its continuation needed careful scrutiny. The expanded authority that the law gave the government to track terrorism suspects has come under growing criticism from both liberals and conservatives because of civil liberties concerns.
Democratic presidential candidates largely agree in opposing the law. Members of Congress from both parties have sought to repeal main parts of it, and the Los Angeles City Council yesterday joined more than 230 communities to approve a symbolic resolution in opposition.
Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, plans hearings on possible extension of the act in the spring or summer of 2005.