It appears that Rand Paul has reached some kind of deal on his insistence to get votes for his amendments to the Patriot Act. There will now be votes on the amendments, with a likely 60-vote threshold. But the expectation is that the amendments will fail, and final passage will be secured Thursday. That will be followed by a quick vote in the House, and then a flight of the bill to Europe so President Obama can sign it before a midnight deadline when the three provisions of the measure would expire. And you said Congress can never be efficient. They can when motivated!

An agreement to hold a test vote early Thursday was the first progress all week toward resolving an impasse between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and tea party favorite Rand Paul, R-Ky., before three provisions of the act expire at midnight Thursday. Just before he closed the Senate on Wednesday night, Reid said there likely would be votes on amendments to the extension.

That could go a long way toward meeting Paul’s demand that Reid make good on a promise earlier this year to hold a full debate on proposed changes to the post-9/11 law, which empowers the government to find terrorists on American soil. Paul and other civil libertarians of both parties say the Patriot Act should be reconsidered or repealed outright because it risks infringing free speech and guarantees against unreasonable searches and seizures.

I appreciate that the AP story sets the record straight, that the rampant fearmongering over the expiration date is a crock, because an expiration would only impact new investigations, and that wiretaps or record requests under the old law would get grandfathered in. Furthermore, these provisions are used sparingly. According to one Justice Department official, the “lone wolf” authority has never been used.

However, sparing use doesn’t mean that these activities which deprive civil liberties should continue to be used without some kind of minimization procedures. And that’s to say nothing of the secret Patriot Act – the different interpretation of the law that allows for a mass dragnet of private information – which members of the Senate Intelligence Committee seem to know quite a lot about. One of them, Mark Udall (D-CO), told the Durango Herald that “the laws that authorize (sources and methods) should not be kept secret from the American people.”

Udall and Ron Wyden just want to get this in the public record. But of course, our secretive surveillance state government wants to keep that information to themselves. And the few stragglers defending civil liberties and the Constitution in Congress have run out the string on their efforts to hold things up. Once again, the Patriot Act is poised to pass, with next to no debate and no serious effort to reform the law, 10 years after 9/11, one month after the death of Osama bin Laden.

David Dayen

David Dayen