WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives passed a sweeping anti-terror bill Wednesday that will enable police to secretly search the homes of suspects, tap all their cell and home phones and track their use of the Internet.
The House vote was 357 to 66. The Senate plans to vote on the measure Thursday, hoping to get it ready for President Bush's signature before the end of the week.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said he is expecting a strong vote in the Senate.
"This has not been easy but it has been very gratifying that we have been able to find the appropriate balance between protecting civil liberties, privacy and ensuring that law enforcement has the tools it needs to do the job it must," Daschle said.
Lawmakers last week reached a compromise between the House and Senate versions of Bush's measure, which would expand the FBI's wiretapping authority, impose stronger penalties on those who harbor or finance terrorists and increase punishment of terrorists. It also allows suspects to be detained for up to seven days rather than two without being formally charged.
"The House is taking a responsible step forward by giving law enforcement the tools necessary to secure the safety of Americans while protecting our constitutional rights," Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said after the vote.
"This landmark legislation will provide law enforcement and intelligence agencies additional tools that are needed to address the threat of terrorism and to find and prosecute terrorist criminals," said Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who chairs the House Judiciary Committee.
Some House members say the bill gives the government too much power. They complained that House leaders dumping a compromise approved unanimously by the committee in favor of the modified Senate version. They were able to keep a provision that sunsets the bill's provisions in 2005.
Daschle said the bill will deal with "money laundering in addition to counter-terrorism" and represents wide agreement among lawmakers. House leaders had tried to separate the money laundering provisions into another bill, but Senators threatened to scuttle the anti-terror bill if money laundering provisions were excluded.
However, the bill may still face some maneuvering in the Senate before it is passed.
"The counter-terrorism bill, which includes money laundering, that we agreed to last week, has become a candidate for the addition of some other issues; many of them good, and have bipartisan support. The problem has been that when you have one good idea then it's two, and then it's four, and then it's six," said Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., Tuesday.
Another threat comes from Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who may try to block final approval in the Senate. Wyden opposes a compromise Senate negotiators made to get House approval of the legislation.
The original Senate bill included an amendment that lifted a ban on federal prosecutors using investigative techniques such as wiretaps or undercover stings that are prohibited under state and local bar associations' ethics rules even if they are not barred under federal law.
Wyden and Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., said in a letter to Bush that for the last year the rule, upheld in a Oregon state court last year, has had "unintended consequences that have led to a complete of all federal covert investigative methods" in Wyden's state of Oregon.
They argue that the prohibition will open a loophole for dangerous criminals to set up shop with little fear of detection or apprehension through undercover or covert methods.
Former House Judiciary Committee chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill., and current chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., oppose any changes to the amendment.
"I believe U.S. Attorneys ought to obey ethical requirements of the state," Hyde said last week.
"I implore the conferees, and indeed the entire Congress, to act swiftly and judiciously to guarantee that our federal prosecutors and investigators have the essential tool of covert operations at their disposal to prevent and prosecute criminal and terrorist acts," Wyden responded in a plea to legislators working on the compromise.
Wyden has threatened to delay final approval. By Senate custom, any senator can block a bill, at least temporarily. Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., can override the block.
Lott said he and Daschle are inclined to prohibit the addition of amendments to the bill and pass it "clean."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.