WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate leaders reached a bipartisan agreement on Wednesday to extend for six months key provisions of the anti-terrorism USA Patriot Act set to expire in 10 days.
The accord, to be voted on later on Wednesday, would provide time for Congress to try to resolve differences over safeguards for civil liberties before making most of the provisions the Bush administration deems necessary for its war on terror permanent.
Democrats and Republicans who helped negotiate the deal voiced confidence that the White House and House of Representatives would give needed approvals.
Initially passed after the September 11, 2001, attacks, the Patriot Act expanded the authority of the federal government to conduct secret searches, obtain private records, intercept telephone calls and take other action in the effort to track down suspected terrorists.
Earlier on Wednesday, 52 of the 100 senators, including eight Republicans, signed a letter in support of a Democratic-led bid to extend expiring provisions for just three months to provide time to resolve differences.
Senate leaders, who had earlier opposed any such short-term deal, agreed to the six-month extension following talks during much of the day.
The battle has been complicated by the recent disclosure that shortly after the September 11 attacks Bush authorized spying on communications by Americans with suspected terrorist ties without a warrant.
Bush brushed aside criticism of his aggressive tactics and, earlier on Wednesday, accused Senate Democrats of putting the United States at risk by blocking renewal of the Patriot Act.
Bush made no mention of the four senators in his Republican Party -- Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Larry Craig of Idaho, John Sununu of New Hampshire and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska -- who joined most Democrats last week to block the bill with a procedural hurdle.