Senators Craft Backup Plans on NSA Spy Programs as Vote Unclear

WASHINGTON (Bloomberg News/TNS) -

The Senate may vote as soon as Saturday on a House-passed bill that would prohibit the NSA from collecting bulk records on Americans while extending three expiring provisions of the USA Patriot Act.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California told reporters she was working on backup legislation should the chamber’s vote on the House bill fail. Feinstein said, however, she supports the bill, called the USA Freedom Act.

“Whether the votes are there I don’t know and what would happen if it fails I don’t know,” Feinstein said Thursday. “If it doesn’t pass, that’s another problem.”

With no final resolution in sight, Republicans were facing their first test on being able to resolve a dispute over national security legislation. The spy programs were first disclosed by former government contractor Edward Snowden in June 2013.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), chairman of the intelligence committee, was working on a separate fallback plan, Feinstein said. She said the two weren’t in agreement.

Without a final deal, Section 215 of the Patriot Act will expire at 12:01 a.m. on June 1. The government has used the authority to collect records from companies in support of counterterrorism investigations, including details about phone calls. The government also would lose its authority to use roving wiretaps and to search for so-called lone wolf terrorists.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, has set up procedural votes for Saturday on the House bill, as well as a two-month extension of the expiring provisions. The bills need 60 votes to advance.

Burr said he hopes the two-month extension would succeed. When asked what kind of a backup plan he was developing, Burr said, “Wait until Saturday.” He declined further comment.