WASHINGTON – The Senate voted Thursday to give police broad new wiretapping authority and other tools to pursue suspected terrorists and to increase and federalize security on airliners and at airports.
Hours after unanimously passing a bill to overhaul protections against terrorism in aviation, the Senate approved a compromise bill negotiated with Attorney General John Ashcroft authorizing the use of roaming wiretaps and new subpoena powers against suspected terrorists.
The Bush administration had urgently pressed for the two measures as a response to the Sept. 11 hijacked airliner attacks in New York and Washington. But both had been stalled for two weeks, the anti-terrorism bill over civil liberty concerns and the aviation security bill over efforts to add aid for laid-off airline workers and money for Amtrak.
The Senate passed the anti-terrorism legislation 96-1. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., cast the only dissenting vote.
Feingold had failed in a last-ditch effort to tone down parts of the bill's police powers, and grew angry that the bill, which came straight to the floor, was moving so fast. "What have we come to when we don't have either committee or Senate deliberation or amendments on an issue of this importance?" he said.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who negotiated with Senate Republicans and the administration to come up with the final version of the bill, conceded that the legislation "is really not the bill that any of the 100 here would have written, but we can't pass 100 bills."
"What we have done is put together the best bill possible," he said.
The House is expected to take up its version of the bill Friday.
Both the House and Senate measures would expand the FBI's wiretapping authority, impose stronger penalties on those who harbor or finance terrorists and increase punishment for terrorists.
But unlike the House anti-terrorism bill, the Senate measure has no expiration date on the new police powers and also includes money-laundering legislation requested by the White House.
The administration has been trying to get the House to drop its request for a sunset provision, and House and White House negotiators appeared close to a deal Thursday that would extend the new wiretapping laws for five years, instead the two years currently specified in the House bill, said a spokesman for House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.
A two-week stalemate on the aviation bill was broken Thursday when a procedural vote went against an amendment to link the bill to a $1.9 billion package to help laid-off aviation workers.
Sen. Jean Carnahan, D-Mo., author of the amendment, withdrew it after the vote, opening the way for passage of the bill.
Carnahan argued that after Congress approved $40 billion in emergency spending and a $15 billion plan to help the airline industry in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, it was only right to provide extended unemployment benefits, health care and training to the estimated 140,000 laid-off aviation workers.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., expressed his "grave disappointment" with the vote against Carnahan. "This is the first time that we have said 'no' to any of the victims of the disaster of one month ago."
But others said accepting the Carnahan amendment would open the bill to other peripheral amendments, including a $3 billion package to upgrade Amtrak security and capacity. Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, said that if the worker relief measure went forward, he would try to attach language to open 2,000 acres of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling.