WASHINGTON (AP) - Lawmakers who say portions of the USA Patriot Act went too far are taking aim at its provision that made it easier for investigators to learn what people are reading - despite a veto threat from the White House.
The House planned to vote Thursday on a proposal by Rep. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., that would prevent the government from using the Patriot Act to demand records from book stores and libraries. The election-season showdown is the latest over the law, which Bush has sought to expand but which Democrats and some conservative Republicans say has infringed on individual rights.
Sanders was planning to offer his amendment to a bill providing $39.8 billion next year for the departments of Commerce, Justice and State. That is $2.2 billion more than this year's total and $240 million beyond what Bush proposed for 2005.
The Senate has yet to write its version of the bill. But in votes Wednesday, the House voted:
-By 221-194 to overturn new Bush administration restrictions on the gift parcels that Americans can send to family members in Cuba, in a rebuff to the president dealt by Democrats and nearly four dozen farm-state and free-trade Republicans. The vote came just four months from an Election Day in which Bush would like to once again win Florida, the pivotal state in his 2000 victory, by gaining the support of that state's Cuban-Americans.
-By 268-148 to let the federal government continue prosecuting people who use marijuana for medical reasons in states where local law allows its use by patients. By that vote, the House rejected an amendment by Democrats and some conservative Republicans that would have barred the federal government from blocking the medical marijuana laws of Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.
As the House debated the spending bill Wednesday, the White House budget office sent a memo to lawmakers warning that if an amendment "that would weaken the USA Patriot Act were adopted and presented to the president for his signature, the president's senior advisers would recommend a veto."
With Republicans controlling Congress, it is virtually inconceivable that lawmakers would send Bush a bill - especially in an election year - confronting him on a high-profile topic. Rather than an omen of an impending showdown, the veto threat underscored the administration's determination to take an aggressive stance on law enforcement and terrorism.
In a written statement afterward, Sanders fired back.
"Every American wants to fight terrorism vigorously, but they want to do it in a way that does not undermine basic Constitutional rights," Sanders said. "American citizens ... have made it very clear that they do not want the government monitoring their reading habits when they walk into a library or a bookstore."
The Patriot Act, passed after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, strengthened the government's surveillance and detention powers.
Sanders' target is a Patriot Act provision that lets investigators get court orders requiring book dealers, libraries or others to surrender records. The orders are issued by a special court that handles foreign surveillance intelligence cases, and are easier to obtain than search warrants or subpoenas.