USA PATRIOT ACT ADDITIONAL REAUTHORIZING AMENDMENTS ACT OF 2006 -- (House of Representatives - March 07, 2006)
Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. Madam Speaker, I rise today in opposition to S. 2271, a bill that circumvents the regular legislative process and fails to truly improve the PATRIOT Act.
Last year, I rejected the PATRIOT Act reauthorization and the conference report because I thought Congress could strike a more reasonable balance in empowering law enforcement and protecting civil liberties. I was concerned then, as I am now, that the reauthorization language would remove the protection of sunsets to most of the PATRIOT Act, which was critical to earn support for such sweeping legislation in 2001. These sunset provisions ensure that Congress will continuously be able to take a closer look at how law enforcement powers are implemented and the effectiveness of balancing security and freedom. I continue to believe that Congressional oversight over one of the most fundamental challenges of our time would not hinder our society but enhance it.
First, let us be clear about what we are voting on today--an amendment to a conference report. Conference reports are not amendable. Conference reports are the product of conference committees that have hammered out the differences between House and Senate versions of legislation. A conference report is one of the last stages of the legislative process and it must be wholly rejected or accepted by the two chambers.
Since the Majority and the Administration cannot pass the PATRIOT Act reauthorization conference report on its merits through the regular legislative process, the House must now consider a bill that amends the report. Instead of being honest with the American people that the conference report is flawed, the Majority is attempting to maneuver legislation through the House that they purport will "fix" the underlying problems of the PATRIOT Act reauthorization and fast-track the bill to President Bush's desk.
Even if this "fix" was added to the conference report, many discrepancies in the protection of privacy, civil liberties and Congressional oversight still remain. For example, with no meaningful changes to the conference report, access is still allowed to sensitive personal records, including medical, business and library records (Section 215) and national security letters that request personal information are still issued with no judicial review (Section 505).
Today, I reject the idea that the Majority and the Administration can use this bill as political cover to gain enough support for passage of the PATRIOT Act reauthorization. The fact remains that the PATRIOT Act reauthorization still needs more work, more safeguards, and more oversight. As the 109th Congress continues to discuss protecting the homeland and civil liberties, I challenge my colleagues to have an open review and debate on improving the PATRIOT Act, and to work together--in a bipartisan manner--to strengthen national security in a way that is consistent with the fundamental rights and freedoms this country was founded on.