The agreement also assures that the Patriot Act, the post-Sept. 11 law that the Bush administration credits for thwarting terror plots in the United States, would remain on the books.
"It gets us to where we want to get," said Sen. Larry Craig (R., Idaho), one of four Republicans who joined Democrats in blocking renewal of the law. "The majority of the United States Senate did not want to see the Patriot Act die. We wanted to see it reformed."
The deal came together after Democrats, joined by four Republicans, on Friday blocked a vote to renew the act in hopes of winning stronger civil-liberties provisions in the new law. Yesterday, pressure mounted on Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R., Tenn.) to extend the law, even though he had been adamant that he would not.
Fifty-two senators, including eight Republicans, asked Frist to accept a three-month extension. Most senators had indicated earlier that they would have accepted a six-month extension as well.
"They ought to extend it - three months, six months or a year - we ought to not let it expire," said Sen. Trent Lott (R., Miss.).
The House would have to approve the extension before Bush could sign it into law, and the House is scheduled to remain in recess until Jan. 31. The House previously voted to renew the act as it is, not to extend it temporarily.
For days, Bush had portrayed Democrats as obstructionists intent on killing the Patriot Act.
"This obstruction is inexcusable," Bush told reporters yesterday morning.
"The senators obstructing the Patriot Act need to understand that the expiration of this vital law will endanger America and will leave us in a weaker position in the fight against brutal killers."
The President did not mention that four Republican senators - Craig, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, John Sununu of New Hampshire and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska - had joined all 44 Democrats to block the act's renewal by vowing a filibuster, an extended debate that can be ended only by 60 votes in the 100-member Senate.
The act gives law-enforcement agencies enhanced powers to search and seize an array of personal documents, ranging from medical and financial records to library lending lists.
It requires investigators who want to seize such records to convince a court that the records are "relevant" to a terrorism investigation. That's a far lower threshold than the "probable cause" standard required to get a warrant in a criminal case.
Opponents say the law does not sufficiently protect innocent Americans. Senate opponents have taken particular aim at Section 215, which allows a special judge to issue an order for "any tangible thing" that investigators want in a foreign intelligence investigation.
Critics call that a "gag order" because it prohibits the holder of the records from talking to anyone about the order.
"Giving someone an opportunity to challenge a gag order doesn't inhibit law enforcement's ability to do their job," Sununu said. "Being fair and getting rid of a punitive provision that requires you to go to the FBI, tell them if you talked to a lawyer and name that lawyer - which is nowhere else in law - doesn't undermine law enforcement's ability to do their job."
The six-month extension would require the Patriot Act to be renewed in June. Advocates of the extension said that would be enough time to complete the work they want done and still avoid politicizing the issue with the November elections.
Contact reporter William Douglas
at 202-383-6026 or email@example.com.