In what may be a sign that President Bush is beginning to experience the “second-term blues,” the House of Representatives on Wednesday voted 238-187 to prevent appropriated funds from being used to secretly obtain library patrons’ and book shoppers’ records, as allowed under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.
Although President Bush has threatened to veto any “weakening of the act,” 38 Republicans voted for the restraint.
This may be something of a symbolic gesture, given that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told Congress in April that the government has never used this authority to snoop for library, bookstore, medical or gun sales records.
But it is a significant one and suggests a more measured response to the claim that the best way to fight terrorism is to give government more power — to trade a little liberty for security, as the saying goes — than was apparent in the wake of 9/11, when the original Patriot Act was passed.
If this is the first step in that more measured response, we welcome it.
That act, you may remember, was cobbled together mostly from power-increasing proposals the Clinton administration had proposed and the Republican Congress rejected during the 1990s.
Drafted in haste and revised up to the last minute, no single member of Congress could have read the whole proposal. Although skeptics did manage to include provisions to “sunset” 15 sections of the bill at the end of this year, those power-grabbing proposals looked better to Republicans after 9/11, especially with a Republican in the White House.
The success of this amendment almost guarantees there will be more opportunities to consider reforming the Patriot Act. We hope reform comes sooner rather than later.