Congress, Prodded by Bush, Faces Long Weekend of Patriot Act, Spending Cuts

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Congress faced renewed pressure Saturday from President Bush to extend the Patriot Act as lawmakers geared up for a weekend of work, searching for pre-holiday deals on the anti-terrorism law, military spending and budgets for big domestic agencies.

Bush used his weekly radio address to criticize Democrats who have blocked the renewal of the anti-terrorism law that Congress passed overwhelming after the Sept. 11 attacks. In a live broadcast from the White House, the president said the effort to stall a vote was "irresponsible and it endangers the lives of our citizens."

"In the war on terror, we cannot afford to be without this law for a single moment," Bush said.

Major provisions of the Patriot Act expire on Dec. 31. The House has voted to reauthorize the law, but the Senate on Friday failed to advance a compromise bill to a vote. Senate Republicans fell eight votes short of the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster.

Snaps on other measures raised the possibility that Congress might have to work through Tuesday to wrap up the legislative year.

The Patriot Act bill would have added new four-year limits and safeguards to the two more controversial parts of the law: authorization for roving wiretaps, which allow investigators to monitor multiple devices, and secret warrants for books, records and other items from businesses, hospitals and organizations such as libraries.

Bush said Saturday that the law has protected liberties and saved lives.

"The terrorist threat to our country will not expire in two weeks," he said. "Congress has a responsibility to ensure that law enforcement and intelligence officials have the tools they need to protect the American people."

But critics of the law say all they want is some extra time to place additional safeguards, especially considering the revelations that the president granted the National Security Agency new powers to eavesdrop without warrants on people inside the U.S.

The success of the filibuster "should be a strong signal to the White House that the American people believe that we can fight terrorism while protecting our freedoms," said Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis.

Also awaiting action are:

— The Republicans' $40 billion-plus, five-year spending cut plan. It would take on the spiraling growth of federal benefit programs such as Medicaid, Medicare and student loan subsidies. It is part of a campaign by Republican leaders to burnish their party's budget-cutting credentials as they try to reduce a deficit swelled by the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina.

— The $453 billion defense budget. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, is trying to add a plan for oil drilling in a wildlife refuge in Alaska. The legislation already combines Pentagon money with that for the war in Iraq with hurricane relief aid and a scaled-down plan to fight bird flu.

— A $602 billion appropriations bill for the departments of Labor, Education and Health and Human Services. GOP moderates in the Senate dislike the spending levels for many programs.

Congress already approved about $8 billion in incentives to aid businesses wiped out by Hurricane Katrina and lure jobs back to the Gulf Coast. The plan, however, denies some benefits to casinos as well as liquor stores, golf courses and some other recreational industries.

The House and Senate agreed on an extension of the Violence Against Women Act that calls for more money, and a two-year continuation of a post-Sept. 11 law providing federal insurance backup for catastrophic losses suffered in a terrorist attack.

Some legislation must still be approved by both chambers before it goes to the White House.

Now that they have an agreement to bar cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of suspects in the fight against terrorism, House and Senate negotiators were trying to finish a bill that sets Pentagon policy.

The GOP-controlled House also approved a resolution saying the House is committed "to achieving victory in Iraq" and that setting an "artificial timetable" would be "fundamentally inconsistent with achieving victory."

On the domestic front, the House passed a measure to stem the tide of illegal immigration. The bill takes steps to tighten border controls and stop unlawful immigrants from getting jobs. Lawmakers left for next year the tougher issue of how to deal with the 11 million undocumented people already in the country.