Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have reached an agreement that could smooth the way for reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act before it expires Thursday at midnight.
Still, the anti-terrorism tools authorized by the law are likely to lapse for a period of time before the measure can be passed by the House and signed by the president, who is travelling in Europe. The Reid-Paul deal, however, could shorten the amount of time the law will be inactive.
Democratic and Republican sources confirmed that Reid has agreed to allow votes on two Paul amendments, including a gun-related measure. However, the agreement must still pass muster with Democrats opposed to the PATRIOT Act who might want additional votes on their amendments, and Republicans who support reauthorization and might oppose the inclusion of Paul's gun amendment.
In a sign that Democratic opponents might be prepared to relent on amendments, Senate Intelligence Chairman Dianne Feinstein on Thursday told two of those Senators during a colloquy that she would hold committee hearings on their concerns following the Memorial Day recess. The California Democrat, who is a strong supporter of reauthorization, also pledged to give them committee votes on their proposals.
Sens. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) indicated their satisfaction, with the expectation that Reid would allow a floor vote on their amendments at a later date. However, other Democrats have concerns and it was unclear if they had been assuaged.
"Reid has just indicated to all of us that he would focus on giving us a vote, if we felt it was needed, on another bill ó not the Intelligence Authorization ó before Sept. 30," Wyden said during the colloquy. "So that there is a plan to actually get this fixed."
A disagreement between Reid and Paul that first surfaced on Tuesday has threatened to derail the timely reauthorization of the law, first passed in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Reauthorization of the law enjoys strong bipartisan support, although the opposition is also bipartisan.
When Reid initially declined to allow Paul's gun amendment to get a vote, the Kentucky Republican cried foul and used the parliamentary tools at his disposal to force the full debate time on the legislation to be used. Doing so would ensure that the law would expire for a period of time before it is reauthorized.
Reid disputed Paul's account of their agreement, and employed procedural tactics of his own to shorten the debate time. However, Reid's move did not save enough time, leading to further talks in an effort to pass the reauthorization before the law expires. The Obama administration, Reid and Republican leaders in the House and Senate have all described reauthorization as a national and homeland security priority.