Two differing bills passed by the House and Senate judiciary committees in recent weeks will have to be reconciled in Congress, but only when the Senate isn't backlogged by health care, Democratic aides told ABC News.
"This critical legislation protects our national security, as well as our civil liberties, and the clock is ticking," said Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., an author of President Bush's 2001 Patriot Act and former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee under the Bush administration.
Sensenbrenner urged the House and Senate to act quickly in reauthorizing the provisions before they expire at the end of this year.
But House Democrats in the Judiciary Committee went much further reigning in executive authorities and raising the threshold of proof needed to legally seize Americans' personal records and conduct wiretaps on their phones. It also slapped on more restrictions, and required more government auditing, and reporting showing how the process could be modified to enhance civil liberties.
"We have the opportunity to fix the most extreme provisions of that law and provide a better balance," said Rep. John Conyers, Jr., D-Mich., who introduced the House bill, which allows one provision of the Patriot Act to expire.
In renewing only two of the three sunsetting provisions, the House version has defied the White House, quietly pushing Congress to totally renew its predecessor's law.
This is not a new debate. Four years ago, then Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., who taught constitutional law, voted down the same provisions along with all Senate Democrats who insisted on changes to the bill that better protected libraries, limited clandestine search warrants, roving wiretaps, and FBI gag orders.