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USA Patriot Act: Part 2

What's in a name? Bill monikers can make, break legislation

Posted: Monday, September 22, 2003

WASHINGTON The White House won't say it, the Justice Department denies it and opponents salivate at every opportunity to use it.

''The USA Patriot Act'' is a phrase that Bush administration officials shun when questioned about the new anti-terrorism powers the president is asking lawmakers to give police and prosecutors.

Among the measures President Bush is seeking are expanded use of the federal death penalty, tougher bail restrictions and FBI power to subpoena records and witnesses without having to go to a judge or grand jury.

The new authority would be in addition to the broad powers for searches, wiretaps, electronic and computer eavesdropping, and access to personal and business information Bush got from Congress six weeks after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

In the fervor of the time, the bills were dubbed by sponsors as the Uniting and Strengthening America or USA Act in the Senate and the Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism or PATRIOT Act in the House. They were combined to become the USA Patriot Act.

''This is the work of a couple of smart staffers in Congress,'' said Mark Corallo, a spokesperson for the Justice Department.

Since then, however, the Patriot Act has become a very sore point for powerful liberals and conservatives alike. Both sides object to the law's intrusiveness into Americans' lives in the name of anti-terrorism.

The House already has voted to negate part of it the use of federal funds on ''sneak and peek'' searches without the property owners' or residents' knowledge and with warrants delivered afterward.

Last week Attorney General John Ashcroft was forced to reveal that the FBI hadn't yet used its Patriot Act power to investigate library records after critics expressed outrage the government would compel the disclosure of what people read.

When Bush unveiled the new measures he wants the day before the two-year anniversary of Sept. 11, critics immediately slapped the name ''Patriot Act II'' on them.

''The administration now has decided to push a sequel, without calling it a sequel,'' said Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Asked if there was a connection between Bush's latest initiative and the 2001 law, White House spokesperson Scott McClellan said, ''I don't know if I'd view it that way.''

The Justice Department says there is no omnibus Patriot Act II in the works.

''I don't think that anybody is thinking about what to name any legislation,'' said Corallo. ''What we're concentrating on here, as we go about our business every day, is to find ways that we can better debilitate the terrorists.''

Lawmakers often name bills after themselves, or come up with catchy names or acronyms to give legislation a boost. A popular name can help a bill, but a controversial or unpopular name can hurt it.

''Some lawmakers will vote against legislation just because of the name,'' Senate Historian Don Ritchie said.

Opponents of Bush's new proposals say the administration is unwilling to describe them in terms of the Patriot Act because the name itself generates hostility from civil libertarians.

''There is a large national movement that questions elements of the USA Patriot Act,'' said Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., the only senator to vote against it. ''I think all of that has led to the name USA Patriot Act not being what the administration hoped it would be. They shouldn't have used that name in the first place.''

About half the people questioned in a recent poll said the Bush administration has been about right in using new laws to fight terrorism, while 24 percent said the government has gone too far and 18 percent said it hasn't gone far enough. The poll was conducted for The Associated Press by ICR/International Communications Research of Media, Pa.

''The American people overwhelmingly support not just the Patriot Act but this administration's effort to defeat the terrorists and keep America safe,'' Corallo said. ''They expect us to promote these changes.''

A name even if it's Patriot Act II won't really matter, said Sen. George Allen, R-Va., who questions a provision being used now to hold suspects while denying them access to a lawyer.

''I try to get past the name,'' said Allen. ''What will probably happen is that most of us, Republican and Democrat, will want to examine how those laws have been used and ask for changes we think are needed.''

Jesse J. Holland covers Congress for The Associated Press.

On the Net:

Justice Department on the USA Patriot Act: http://www.lifeandliberty.gov

American Civil Liberties Union on the USA Patriot Act: http://www.aclu.org/SafeandFree/SafeandFree.cfm?ID12126&c207



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