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The Week Ahead in Congress -- Renewing the PATRIOT Act

February 7, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The House is back in session this week, and they’re kicking off their return with a vote on a bill that seems to be popular with members of Congress, in both parties, but hugely unpopular with just about everyone else — renewing the USA PATRIOT Act. That’s right, the Republicans’ bill to extend a few controversial surveillance programs that are set to expire at the end of this month (see below for explanation) has been rushed to the floor calendar without a single committee hearing or a proper mark-up. As you can see on the schedule below, they are trying to pass it under the suspension of the rules procedure, which means that there will only be 40 minutes of debate allowed and no amendments can be offered.

Here’s the full House schedule for the week:

First Vote Of The Week: Tuesday 6:30 p.m.
Last Vote Predicted: Friday 3:00 p.m.

On Monday, the House is not in session.

On Tuesday, the House will meet at 2:00 p.m. for legislative business with votes postponed until 6:30 p.m.

Suspensions (2 Bills)

  1. H.R.514  - To extend expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005 and Intelligence Reform of Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 relating to access to business records, individual terrorists as agents of foreign powers and roving wiretaps until December 8, 2011 (Rep. Sensenbrenner – Judiciary)
  2. H.R. __ – To extend trade adjustment assistance and the Andean Trade Preference Act (Rep. Camp – Ways and Means)

On Wednesday and Thursday, the House will meet at 10:00 a.m. for Morning Hour debate and 12:00 p.m. for legislative business. No votes are expected before 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday, the House will meet at 9:00 a.m. for legislative business with last votes no later than 3:00 p.m.

Suspensions (2 Bills)

  1. S. 188 – A bill to designate the United States courthouse under construction at 98 West First Street, Yuma, Arizona, as the “John M. Roll United States Courthouse” (Sen. McCain – Transportation and Infrastructure)
  2. H.R. __ – To cut the United Nations Tax Equalization Fund (Rep. Ros-Lehtinen – Foreign Affairs)

H. Res. __ – Directing certain standing committees to inventory and review existing, pending, and proposed regulations and orders from agencies of the Federal Government, particularly with respect to their effect on jobs and economic growth (Rep. Sessions – Rules) (Subject to a Rule)

On February 28, three provisions of the PATRIOT Act are scheduled to expire. They include the authority for “roving” wiretaps that allows the government to monitor computers that may occasionally be used by suspected terrorists, the “tangible records provision” that requires banks, telecoms and libraries to hand over any customer information the government requests without informing the customer, and the “lone wolf” provision allowing the government to track international terrorist groups. The Republicans’ PATRIOT Act extension bill would extend these for one year with no new restrictions or oversight provisions. Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith [R, TX-21], who is forwarding the bill out of his committee and onto the floor for the votes, has called it “a step toward the long-term reauthorization” of the provisions.

Mind you, the Democrats in Congress are generally supportive of extending the PATRIOT Act as well, so you can expect this to sail through the Senate in the next couple weeks. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Pat Leahy [D, VT] has already offered his own bill to extend the provisions (S.193), although with a few more restrictions on how the government can request personal information (i.e. “tangible records”).

And here’s the full Senate schedule:

Convenes: 2:00pm

Following any Leader remarks, there will be a period of morning business until 3:00pm with senators permitted to speak therein for up to 10 minutes each.

At 3:00pm, the Senate will resume consideration of S.223, the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization bill. If senators have amendments to the bill they would like to offer they should contact the bill managers.

At 4:30pm, the Senate will proceed to Executive session to consider the following nominations with one hour for debate equally divided and controlled between the two Leaders or their designees.

  • Calendar #3 Paul Holmes, of AR, to be US District Judge for the Western District of Arkansas;
  • Calendar #6 Diana Saldana, of TX, to be US District Judge for the Southern District of Texas;
  • Calendar #8 Marco Hernandez, of OR, to be US District Judge for the District of Oregon.

At approximately 5:30pm, the nomination of Marco Hernandez will be confirmed by unanimous consent and the Senate will immediately proceed to a series of 2 votes on confirmation of the Holmes and Saldana nominations.

As a result, senators should expect 2 stacked roll call votes at 5:30pm on confirmation of the following nominations:

  • Calendar #3 Paul Holmes, of AR, to be US District Judge for the Western District of Arkansas; and
  • Calendar #6 Diana Saldana, of TX, to be US District Judge for the Southern District of Texas.

They spent all of last week debating the FAA bill and they’ll continue debating it this week. It is a super non controversial bill, but the informal agreement between Reid and McConnell means that, although it wasn’t filibustered, it has become a vehicle for all kinds of unrelated votes. For example, the Republicans last week used it to force a vote on an amendment to repeal health care reform.

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