Senate Blocks Bill To End Government Collection Of Phone Records

The Senate worked late into the night Friday and early Saturday but still failed to agree on extending government surveillance programs under the USA Patriot Act before the Memorial Day holiday.

Lawmakers blocked votes on both a House-passed bill and a short-term extension of the Patriot Act provisions that allow government surveillance programs.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says lawmakers will try again on May 31, the day before the provisions expire.

The Senate first took up the House bill, which would end the National Security Agency's bulk collection of domestic phone records. That bill, passed overwhelmingly by the House and supported by the Obama administration, required a 60-vote majority to proceed but fell three votes short.

The Senate then failed to advance a two-month extension of the expiring Patriot Act provision that would extend the NSA phone records program. That vote was seven short of the required 69 votes, reports NPR Washington desk senior editor Shirley Henry.

Sen. Majority Leader McConnell tried to secure unanimous consent agreements on a number of measures aimed at preventing the program from lapsing on June 1, when the Patriot Act provision expires, Henry reports.

McConnell first proposed a measure to extend the act to June 8. But Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican presidential contender, objected, saying he wants two amendments debated and voted on.

"Our forefathers would be aghast," Paul said.

Henry reports that McConnell then tried for an extension to June 5, but there was an objection. His proposal for June 3 met another objection; then Paul objected to a June 2 extension, Henry says.

Unable to get agreement on any extension, McConnell said the Senate will come back at 4 p.m. on May 31 to try again, beginning with a vote on the House bill. That gives lawmakers them only a few hours to prevent the Patriot Act provisions from expiring.

The majority leader stressed that it's a dangerous time to allow the law to expire, given the threats overseas and attempted attacks here, and urged the Senate to act "responsibly" to protect the country, Henry reports.

The Justice Department as said the NSA would begin winding down collection of domestic phone records this week if the Senate failed to act, according to the Associated Press.

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