WASHINGTON -- Police would be able to conduct secret searches of suspects' homes, tap all their cell and home phones and track their use of the Internet under anti-terrorism legislation moving toward final approval in the House.
"This is going to pass by an overwhelming margin," said Rep. Mike Oxley, R-Ohio. "I think we all understand that, because the members recognize that the committees have done their work, have made the compromises and have made the necessary changes to get a piece of legislation that can pass."
Lawmakers last week reached a compromise between the House and Senate versions of President Bush's measure, which would expand the FBI's wiretapping and electronic surveillance authority, impose stronger penalties on those who harbor or finance terrorists and increase punishments of terrorists.
To come to that agreement, a GOP-Democrat compromise passed unanimously by the House Judiciary Committee was dumped by House leaders in favor of the modified Senate version being considered.
"This legislation is not perfect, and the process is not one that all will embrace," House Judiciary Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said Tuesday. "However, these are difficult times. This legislation is desperately needed."
Some Democrats warned the bill gives law enforcers too much power. "This is one of the most important measures that we will determine ... because it is anti-terrorist legislation that expands the law in many directions," said Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.
Rep. Robert Scott, D-Va., added: "It's not just limited to terrorism. Had it been limited to terrorism, this bill could have passed three or four weeks ago without much discussion."
House leaders said the bill will be voted on today, with the Senate expected to take up the bill later this week. The plan is to get it to Bush for a possible Friday signing at the White House.
However, there may be a snag on the Senate side. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has threatened to block final approval in the Senate because of a compromise Senate negotiators made to get House approval.
The original Senate bill tinkered with the "McDade amendment," which prevents federal prosecutors from using investigative techniques -- such as wiretaps or undercover stings -- that are disallowed under ethics rules crafted by state and local bar associations, although not barred by federal law.
A Senate fix
The Senate fix would loosen the McDade amendment, named for Joe McDade, a former congressman whose reputation was clouded by an eight-year racketeering case before he won acquittal in 1996.
Wyden wants the fix put back into the anti-terrorism bill and has threatened to delay final approval. By Senate custom, any senator can block a bill, at least temporarily. Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., can override the block.
The Senate's McDade compromise wasn't the only one made during negotiations for the anti-terrorism bill.
The Justice Department gave up on its demands that the new laws immediately become permanent, a major loss for the Bush administration. The administration ultimately decided that having the wiretapping and electronic surveillance portion of the terrorism legislation expire at the end of 2005 was better than having no new laws at all.
The Republican-controlled House gave up its insistence that money-laundering legislation be passed separately and not with the anti-terrorism legislation.
But Senate leaders repeatedly threatened to scuttle the bill if the money-laundering provisions were taken out, and House leaders relented.
They also dumped a provision, sought by some House members, that would have prohibited the use of credit cards or checks for illegal Internet gambling. Law enforcement authorities have identified Internet gambling as a means for money laundering.
In other action, the House:
Required registration of all researchers using biological agents or toxins and made unregistered possession a felony, regardless of intent. It would also become a federal crime to use biological agents in a way that shows reckless disregard for public safety.
Passed legislation authorizing the Treasury Department to issue the first war bonds since World War II.
Passed legislation to make it easier for students called up to active duty in the military to pay off their college loans.