WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Bush administration on Tuesday threatened a veto of a massive spending bill for law enforcement, space programs and other federal programs if it weakens the post-Sept. 11 Patriot Act, the White House said.
“If any amendment that would weaken the USA Patriot Act were included in a bill presented to the president for his signature, the president’s senior advisors would recommend a veto,” according to a statement released by the Office of Management and Budget, which reviews all pending legislation.
On Wednesday, Rep. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, is expected to offer a measure limiting the Patriot Act by ending law enforcement’s easy access to records on citizens’ reading habits at libraries and bookstore purchases without a traditional search warrant.
The amendment would be attached to a bill providing $57.5 billion in funding in fiscal 2006, beginning Oct. 1, for the Justice Department, NASA, the Commerce Department and other agencies. The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to pass the legislation on Wednesday. Senate action is expected later this summer.
The USA Patriot Act is a post-Sept. 11 anti-terrorism law that critics say erodes civil liberties.
Last summer, Sanders proposed a similar measure. He lost on a tie vote of 210-210 and only after House Republican leaders extended the time allowed for the vote to defeat it.
Sanders said on Tuesday his amendment would “prohibit the FBI from spying on the reading habits of innocent Americans” by making it tougher for law enforcement to get a judge’s approval to review records.
“I urge my fellow members of Congress to stand up to the president and defend our basic constitutional rights,” Sanders said in a statement.
The Bush administration said congressional oversight committees should consider any such changes to the Patriot Act, instead of it being amended by an annual appropriations bill.
A spokeswoman for Sanders said the congressman has dropped from this year’s amendment references to protections for Internet reading. She said the revision could mean that “some people could be less hesitant” to support Sanders’ amendment when it comes up for a vote on Wednesday.