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Senate Breaks for Recess After Passing FISA Bill

Following a day of intense closed-door negotiations, Senate Democrats adjourned for August recess late Friday after agreeing to a GOP proposal to reauthorize a domestic spying program with controversial changes that the Bush administration has said are needed to prevent future attacks in the U.S.

Liberals in the Senate, led by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), had threatened to block the bill, which would provide a short-term extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Feingold had objected to a number of key provisions in the bill that he contended would give the administration too much leeway in how it conducts surveillance of American citizens. Democrats also had balked at a demand that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales have the ability to decide when the law could be used.

But facing intense pressure from Republicans and the threat of appearing weak on terrorism, Democrats ultimately agreed to the GOP’s version of the bill by a vote of 60 to 28.

Senate Intelligence Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) had pushed a competing measure that would have included stricter controls on the administration’s ability to conduct surveillance, but that bill failed Friday evening by a vote of 43 to 45.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — who sponsored the legislation along with Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) — hailed the passage of the measure.

“By passing a FISA modernization bill that the president can sign before we go home for recess, the Senate has taken immediate and decisive action to improve the security of our country,” McConnell said, adding that he hopes the House will pass the Senate version so that it can be signed into law this month.

The House is expected to pass the same measure before adjourning for the August recess. That chamber defeated a Democratic-favored version of FISA legislation earlier Friday, after the bill failed to garner the two-thirds support necessary for passage under suspension of the rules.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) accused Republicans of forcing the Senate to bend to President Bush’s will and warned that Democrats would revisit the legislation again in six months when it sunsets.

“Rather than pass this bill, my Republican colleagues chose to rubberstamp a flawed administration proposal that fails to provide the accountability needed in light of the administration’s repeated past mismanagement of key tools in the war on terror,” Reid said in a statement. “This bill will sunset in six months. Over the course of the fall, I expect the Senate to work diligently on more permanent legislation that will better serve American national security interests and the American people.”

The passage of the FISA bill caps a hectic legislative week in which the Senate passed a number of high profile bills, including a children’s health care package and emergency funding to address the Minneapolis bridge disaster.

Although McConnell and other Republicans were pleased to have the legislative victory under their belts going into the summer break, it also will help Democrats deflect GOP charges that they are not adequately addressing terrorist threats.

The House, meanwhile, will convene Saturday morning at 9 to complete its final tasks before the recess. In addition to the FISA measure, the House is expected to complete work on the Defense spending bill, a package of energy measures and a bill to authorize extra funds to rebuild the collapsed Interstate 35 West bridge in Minneapolis.

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