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Archive for Friday, December 23, 2005

Patriot Act extended until Feb. 3

December 23, 2005

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— Congress gave the Bush administration's anti-terrorism powers one more month of life Thursday, with work finished by a lone senator sitting in the virtually empty Senate chamber.

Congress also finalized a defense spending bill that funnels extra money to the Gulf Coast and Iraq. The GOP-run Congress completed the two bills in a scramble to finish a year complicated by standoffs with Democrats and disagreements among Republicans.

The defense bill keeps the Pentagon running, while also channeling $29 billion in hurricane aid to the Gulf Coast and $50 billion more to military action in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Patriot Act extension keeps anti-terrorism laws that were due to expire Dec. 31 in place until Feb. 3. It allows the FBI to continue to investigate terrorism cases using powers granted in 2001.

Congress completed the legislation even though most lawmakers had already headed home for the holidays. Congressional rules allow bills to pass without a recorded vote as long as no lawmaker objects. So, Sen. John Warner, R-Va., the only senator left in the almost empty chamber, performed the task.

House approval sent the defense bill to the president, including its $3.8 billion for bird flu preparedness and liability protections for flu drug manufacturers. The $29 billion for the Gulf Coast included $11.5 billion to help rebuild affected areas.

The White House will get an empty budget stocking from the GOP-controlled Congress this year as Republican leaders were forced to postpone a promised deficit-reduction package.

Republicans worked on the measure all year, and conservatives saw it as a chance to re-establish the GOP's fiscal credentials. But it sparked a political firestorm from Democrats.

It passed the Senate with Vice President Dick Cheney casting a tie-breaking vote. But Senate Democrats maneuvered to make minor changes in the bill, forcing it back to the House for another vote.

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