Having successfully avoided the prospect of having to debate the civil liberties aspects by slipping the language into a small business bill, the Senate approved the extension of the most controversial aspects of the USA PATRIOT Act by 72-23 vote.
Almost immediately thereafter, the House of Representatives sprang into action, offering a similar hasty vote which passed 250-153, narrowly avoiding letting the bill expire at midnight. President Obama, who is out of the country, ordered the act signed by a machine called an “autopen.”
The legislation deals primarily with roving wiretaps and the ability of officials to secure virtually any record they decide might be relevant to an investigation. This second provision was particularly controversial for being used to secure lists of books checked out at libraries and other personal information on Americans.
Sen. Rand Paul (R – KY) had sought to filibuster the act to allow for debate of the provisions, and called for an amendment making certain arms purchases immune from the blanket record collection. Paul insisted the Democrats had been open to allowing a vote on the amendment, but Republican Senators who were “conflicted” by the vote had blocked it.