WASHINGTON – It's a political game of chicken and neither side seems willing to blink. The standoff over renewal of the Patriot Act continued late Tuesday between Senate Democrats and President Bush and Republican leaders without any clues as to when a resolution could come.
The anti-terrorism law is set to expire at the end of this month. Senate lawmakers appear nowhere near agreement despite a conference report last week between the House and Senate on a compromise. Suggestions to extend the act for a few months while the differences are worked out seem to be going nowhere.
Click in the video box to the right to watch a report by FOX News' Brian Wilson.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist made it clear Tuesday that he would allow key provisions of the Patriot Act to expire rather than negotiate further changes in the law with Democrats or consider a three-month extension of the current version.
"This improved bill right now is being obstructed not by a majority of the United States Senate, but by a minority in the United States Senate. They are preventing an up-or-down vote on a bill that will make everybody here safer," Frist, R-Tenn., said.
An updated version of the anti-terrorism law created in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, includes a number of concessions to civil libertarians. It cleared the House over the weekend, and would probably pass the Senate in a straight up or down vote.
But late last week, Senate Democrats showed they had the votes to sustain a filibuster against the measure. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid even bragged that he had "killed the Patriot Act."
On Tuesday, Democrats repeated their offer of a three-month extension of the law. They say that would allow more time for negotiations that they say are being obstructed by the White House.
"On six different occasions on the floor of the Senate we have offered to the Republican leadership an opportunity to extend the Patriot Act," said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. "If the president believes, as we believe, that the Patriot Act is important for American security, then he'll agree to this extension."
"The proposition is whether the president wants to get rid of the Patriot Act or extend it for three months and let the Judiciary Committee work it out. This is not the time to talk about the differences," Reid, D-Nev., said, declining twice to list the remaining sticking points.
The compromise version between House and Senate members already leans toward the Senate bill. If the Senate did agree to an extension, House members, who are not in session right now, could come back to Washington, D.C., and give a voice vote allowing the patch.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says only minor differences remain, for instance, the rule on when the government must reveal that it has conducted a "sneak-and-peek" search warrant against a suspected terrorist.
"The current Patriot Act says you have to notify the target within a reasonable time, which could be anything — been months and months. And now we've narrowed it down to 30 days," Specter said.
The Bush administration seems prepared to go for all or nothing.
"I think it would be a very bad thing to let the Patriot Act expire but I think it would be a bad thing to have a bad Patriot Act," said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.
"Those tools have helped us disrupt plots and prevent attacks and break up terrorist cells," White House spokesman Scott McClellan. "We need those tools for our law enforcement, intelligence community. And we urge the Senate to stop the delaying tactics by the minority of senators, to stop their delay in tactics, to stop filibustering, stop blocking this legislation and get it passed."
Republicans sources on the Hill quote surveys that show 62 percent of Americans support the Patriot Act. The GOP seems prepared to let the act expire, blame Democrats and then take the matter to the American people over the holiday break.
If the measure does expire, which seems closer to reality this week, Patriot Act investigations already underway, or those started before the end of the month, would continue.