Last Friday we blogged the news of a revolt in Congress against the latest draft of the PATRIOT renewal bill coming out of the House/Senate conference committee. That draft lacked many of the civil liberties reforms that were in the Senate version, and a bipartisan coalition of concerned senators and representatives vowed to oppose the bill unless those checks and balances were put back in.
At the time, we wondered: "Will the conference leaders bow to pressure and rewrite the conference report to better protect our rights, so that they can get a vote on it before the holiday? Or will they stand firm and risk a drawn-out public debate on PATRIOT and civil liberties, which can only weaken their position? We don't know yet."
Well, we know now, and the news is good. As reported in Friday evening's EFFector, the negotiators threw up their hands and went home for Thanksgiving, putting off the PATRIOT bill until December. This turn of events, though seemingly anticlimactic, represents a real and somewhat surprising victory for those seeking to curb the PATRIOT Act. Last week, everyone expected the conference to issue a report that would be adopted by Congress before the holidays. The administration and its allies on the conference committee overplayed their hand, circulating a draft full of sham reforms and lacking some of the most important checks and balances in the Senate bill. As a result, the bill is still stalled in conference, a stunning defeat for the pro-PATRIOT camp.
Now the editorial pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post have piled on, criticizing the the draft conference report and demanding the Senate bill reforms. As the Times said,
There are many things Congress should be doing to protect the nation from terrorism. None of them involve dismantling the freedoms of ordinary Americans. There is still time to fix the many problems with the PATRIOT Act.
Indeed, it looks like we have more time -- and more support in Congress -- than we ever expected. Stay tuned for more news on the PATRIOT battle when Congress returns in December.