Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) gave the go-ahead Wednesday for the first major bill responding to the leaks by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, in what could be a last-ditch effort at surveillance reform before Republicans take over the upper chamber.
Reid filed cloture on the motion to proceed to the USA Freedom Act, a procedural move that means the legislation intended to end bulk collection of Americans' phone call records could receive a vote within days.
“The American people are wondering whether Congress can get anything done,” the bill's sponsor, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), said in a statement. “The answer is yes. Congress can and should take up and pass the bipartisan USA FREEDOM Act, without delay.”
The House passed a companion measure in May, but critics charged that the Obama administration and Republican leaders had gutted its tougher proposed provisions. Leahy's Senate bill has similarly received mixed reviews from civil liberties groups.
Senate supporters will still need to find 60 votes to allow a straight up-or-down vote on Leahy's bill.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the likely incoming chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has signaled his strong support for intelligence agencies. His position could create a significant hurdle for reformers hoping to pass a bill that truly reins in the NSA's most invasive privacy violations.