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Feingold filibusters Patriot Act extension

WASHINGTON -- In a case of legislative déjà vu, Senator Russell D. Feingold launched another lonely filibuster against the USA Patriot Act, but sponsors predicted enough support to overcome the tactic and extend parts of the law, which is set to expire March 10.

Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, said protracted talks with the White House over the law's protections for civil liberties produced only a ''fig leaf" to cover weaknesses that leave people vulnerable to government intrusion.

Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he had the 60 votes required to overcome Feingold's filibuster, as soon as this week. He agreed, though, that any revisions to a House-Senate accord blocked last year were ''cosmetic.

''But sometimes cosmetics will make a beauty out of a beast and provide enough cover for senators to change their vote," Specter told reporters yesterday.

The filibuster seemed doomed. No Democrats were expected to join Feingold, according to officials of both parties. Several senior senators of his party have said they would vote for the bill, including Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Richard J. Durbin of Illinois.

Still, Feingold said the new version provided only a modest new protection for civil liberties.

''What we are seeing is quite simply a capitulation to the intransigent and misleading rhetoric of a White House that sees any effort to protect civil liberties as a sign of weakness," Feingold said during a floor speech yesterday that kicked off his latest filibuster.

Other senators say years of talks over the expiring 16 provisions of the law have produced tighter limits on government power when compared with the original version that was passed a few weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks.

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