NSA reform bill could hit snag in Senate

A top Republican senator isn't ready to endorse a House plan that would reauthorize expiring portions of the Patriot Act while curbing the government’s surveillance powers.

Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyAlarm grows over smash-and-grab robberies amid holiday season GOP blocks bill to expand gun background checks after Michigan school shooting GOP ramps up attacks on SALT deduction provision MORE — the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the intelligence law — could emerge as a possible obstacle to reforms of the National Security Agency (NSA).

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The Iowa Republican won’t support the new USA Freedom Act “until I have discussions with people on the Intelligence Committee,” Grassley told reporters in the Capitol on Tuesday.

He did not point to any specific objections, but said that his concerns were about “just finding the balance between national security and privacy.”

The bill is scheduled to be unveiled in the House in the next few days. Leaders of the House Judiciary Committee are also planning to mark it up this week, which could put it on the fast track to the House floor in the days afterward.

While the details have yet to be fully revealed, sources involved with the negotiations have said that it would largely mirror efforts last year to end the NSA’s bulk collection of records about Americans’ phone calls while also adding some new transparency measures and reforming the secretive federal court overseeing federal spying.

Last year, that effort hit a roadblock in the Senate when it came two votes shy of overcoming a procedural hurdle. Grassley at the time voted to filibuster the bill, and GOP leaders were actively urging lawmakers to kill it.

It’s unclear whether the senators who were opposed will change their tune on the new effort. Though sources involved in the talks have indicated that Senate staffers have been included in discussions over the new House legislation, many Republicans appear unwilling to vote for legislation that could be seen as handicapping U.S. intelligence officials.

The new action is prompted by the June 1 expiration of three provisions of the Patriot Act, including the section that the NSA has used to conduct its bulk collection of phone “metadata.” The records include details about the two numbers involved in a phone call and when the call occurred but not the actual conversation.