A combination of the Senate’s arcane rules and Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) insistence on voting on several controversial amendments might cause the Patriot Act to lapse at the end of the week.
The expiration of the law before the passage of an extension would create an upheaval in the law enforcement community, which relies on its authority to track suspected terrorists.
The purpose of the maneuver was to save time in the face of Paul’s staunch resistance to an extension of the homeland security law, which expires at 12:01 a.m. Friday.
The tactic will save time by denying Paul votes on several amendments he is pushing. It will also allow the Senate to vote on ending his filibuster on Thursday instead of Friday, according to Senate aides.
However, if Paul insists on using all 30 hours of post-cloture debate he is entitled to under Senate rules, he could force the Patriot Act to lapse for a day.
Even if Paul waives the 30 hours of post-cloture debate, lawmakers will have to scramble to get the extension signed into law by Thursday because President Obama is in Europe. Officials will have to fly a copy of the Patriot Act extension overseas if they are to prevent a range of law-enforcement powers from expiring.
"We have worked over the last several days to work something out that I think is an excellent compromise," said Reid on the Senate floor. "Is this bill something everyone in the Congress likes? I think the answer is no. But we all agree it's important legislation.
"I have had many conversations with Sen. Paul and tried to come up with a process to allow Sen. Paul and others to offer amendments. I have been unsuccessful," Reid said.
On Tuesday evening, Reid asked the Senate to table a previous motion to proceed to the Patriot Act. It did so by a vote of 74-13.
Reid then picked up a privileged message from the House to which he added the extension of the Patriot Act as a substitute.
The leader then filed cloture on the bill, giving the Senate a chance to vote on cutting off Paul’s filibuster on Thursday.
By taking this route, Reid also blocked Paul’s controversial amendments. It remains to be seen whether this will leave Paul angry enough to insist on the Senate using all the debate time technically required by Senate rules after a filibuster is quashed, known as post-cloture debate time.
If Paul delays the agenda, final passage of the bill would wait until Friday and Patriot Act powers would lapse for at least a day.
One of Paul’s proposed amendments would have made clear that authority to obtain information under the Patriot Act does not include certain firearms records. It is supported by Gun Owners of America.
The Senate adjourned Tuesday night at 7:50 p.m. and is set to return at 10 a.m. on Wednesday.
—This story was updated at 8:03 p.m.