U.S. lawmakers have reached agreement with the White House on legislation to renew the anti-terrorism law known as the Patriot Act. The measure had been blocked by senators who were concerned about civil liberties protections.
Legislation to reauthorize the Patriot Act for another four years was passed by the Republican-led House of Representatives in December.
But a group of Republican majority senators joined Democrats to block the bill from coming to a vote in the Senate. They argued the measure did not go far enough in safeguarding civil liberties.
Among their top concerns was a provision allowing federal agents to seize personal and business records from terror suspects with little opportunity for the targets of such probes to challenge the government in court.
Under the compromise announced Thursday, those subjected to such records seizures would have the right to legally challenge the action.
"Those concerns have been addressed," said the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who was joined by a number of Republicans and a Democrat to announce the deal, which includes a few other changes. The Democrat was Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois:
"I do believe on balance this is clearly a better version of the Patriot Act than that originally passed," he said.
Durbin would not speak for his fellow Democrats about their support for the compromise.
But even if Democrats try to block the bill in the 100-member Senate, it appears they would not have the necessary 41 votes to do so using the procedural tactic known as a filibuster.
Besides full Senate approval, the legislation also needs to be approved by the House again because of the changes before it goes to President Bush for his signature.
The Patriot Act was to have expired at the end of December, but the House and Senate passed two short-term extensions of the current law, which now expires March 10, while they searched for a compromise.