By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 1, 2008
President Bush signed a 15-day extension for a temporary surveillance law yesterday, signaling a brief reprieve in an ongoing battle with Democrats in Congress over whether to immunize telephone companies from lawsuits alleging invasions of privacy for helping the government conduct warrantless wiretaps.
The delay marked a partial concession to Senate Democrats who wanted to continue deliberations, but Bush said during a campaign swing through Las Vegas yesterday that he will not agree to further postponements.
"This will give people and Congress time to pass a good piece of legislation that makes sure that our professionals have the tools necessary to do their job," Bush said. Only days earlier, he had threatened to veto a proposed 30-day extension.
Congress has been wrangling for months over the future of legislation named the Protect America Act, a temporary law passed last August that gave the government broad new authorities to conduct wiretapping without court oversight.
The law was scheduled to expire today. If the deadline had passed, the government's surveillance authorities would have reverted to those in place last summer, which the Bush administration has characterized as inadequate.
While many lawmakers appear to support renewing the law as it stands, the White House and its Republican allies on Capitol Hill are insisting on adding legal protection for telecommunication companies.
The Senate is considering a bill supported by the White House that includes the immunity, but Democrats have blocked Republican attempts to cut off debate to curtail amendments. The House has passed a significantly different bill that does not include telecom immunity.