House lawmakers struck down an extension of key PATRIOT Act provisions Tuesday night in a 277-148 vote. The bill failed to obtain the required 2/3 vote (or 284 in favor), under special fast-track rules usually reserved for non-controversial bills with a high likelihood of passing.
As the voting results—and previous concerns over these very same provisions—show, this topic is anything but non-controversial.
If it had passed, the bill would have extended the legality of "roving wiretaps," tracking of "lone wolf" terrorists not tied to particular extremist groups, and the seizure of personal or business records through the end of the year. The provisions are currently set to expire at the end of the month.
White House support for the legislation, H.R. 514, did little to cajole House Democrats into voting for it. Voting largely along party lines, 122 Democrats voted against the bill, with 4 abstaining.
Where things went awry was on the Republican side of the aisle, where 26 members crossed party lines to vote in dissent. Among the rolls were a few freshman members from the Tea Party caucus, though notably, none from that caucus's leadership. As such, and contrary to much of what has been reported, it seems that the bill's defeat had little to do specifically with Tea Party maneuvering.
As we previously reported, the controversial provisions axed Tuesday were renewed without change last year after a 315-97 vote in favor. That was merely a temporary fix, however, pushing off discussion of the merits of the provisions for one year.
Among the details that lawmakers disagree on is the timeline for when the provisions should expire. Many Senate Republicans have called for the law to be extended permanently, while some Democrats are calling for a significantly shorter sunset term. Others still, are siding with the President, who has called for extending the controversial provisions through 2013.
"This approach would ensure appropriate congressional oversight by maintaining a sunset, but the longer duration provides the necessary certainty and predictability that our Nation's intelligence and law enforcement agencies require as they continue to protect our national security," the White House said in a press release.
Officials in Washington are confident the provisions will pass on a re-vote under normal House rules. What is viewed by many as a "temporary hit" to the bill's passage, has shown more about the Republican rank-and-file's willingness to buck their leadership than any real commentary on the merits of the bill's provisions. One thing is for certain, Democratic leaders are having a field day with the outcome.