US Congress renews Patriot Act in cliffhanger vote

The House of Representatives renewed the USA Patriot Act in a cliffhanger vote Tuesday night, extending a centerpiece of the President George W. Bush's campaign against terror after months of political combat. Bush is expected to sign the 2001 legislation before 16 provisions expire Friday, despite strictures on law enforcers added to quell disputes over the law's balance between privacy rights and the pursuit of potential terrorists. The vote was 280-138, just two more than needed under special rules that required a two-thirds majority. The close vote caught senior Republican aides by surprise in both chambers of Congress. Nonetheless, the vote marked a political victory for Bush and will allow congressional Republicans facing midterm elections this year to continue bragging of a tough-on-terror position. Bush's approval ratings have suffered in recent months after revelations that he had authorized secret, warrantless wiretapping of Americans. That issue helped fuel a two-month Senate parliamentary delay forced by Democrats, which made the White House accept restrictions on information gathered in terror probes.