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US President Says Congress Must Act Now to Protect America


President Bush says Congress's failure to reauthorize a controversial wiretapping law is irresponsible. During his weekly radio address Saturday, Mr. Bush accused the U.S. House of Representatives of not doing enough to protect Americans from terrorists. Mary Alice Salinas reports from Washington.

President Bush blasted the U.S. House of Representatives, saying - again - that its failure to reauthorize critical surveillance powers has left the United States vulnerable to attack. "Members of Congress must never forget, somewhere in the world, at this very moment, terrorists are planning the next attack on America. And to protect America from such attacks, we must protect our telecommunications companies from abusive lawsuits," he said.

Mr. Bush said House Democrats oppose giving legal protection to telecommunications companies that cooperated in the government's warrantless wiretapping program because Democrats want to help trial lawyers sue the companies for billions of dollars.

House Democrats say they oppose giving legal protection to the companies out of concern for the civil rights of Americans. The wiretapping program has monitored communications between people in the United States and suspected terrorists overseas.

The U.S. Senate has passed a measure that includes retroactive immunity for the telecommunications firms. But House members took a ten-day recess before acting on the bill. The current law expired February 16.

The Bush administration says some telephone companies are resisting new wiretap requests because of uncertainties about the law. President Bush urged the House leaders to follow the Senate. He said Congress has a clear choice. "When Congress reconvenes on Monday, members of the House have a choice to make: They can empower the trial bar - or they can empower the intelligence community," he said.

House Democrat and Michigan Representative John Conyers responded to Mr. Bush's radio address. He denied the U.S. is at increased risk. "There should be no question in anyone's mind that the United States intelligence agencies have the legal ability to take all actions necessary to protect the security of the American people. For anyone to suggest otherwise is irresponsible and totally inaccurate," he said.

House Democrats have accused the Bush administration of exploiting fear to justify excessive use of power. Conyers said the Democrats in Congress want more time to craft a measure that protects both the United States and the civil liberties of its citizens. He expects the House and Senate will agree on a new surveillance bill within the next few weeks.