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House set to let warrantless eavesdropping law lapse

President lobbied hard Thursday for renewal of Protect America Act, which expires Feb. 16.

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Neither the White House nor House Democrats blinked in a standoff over renewal of a controversial eavesdropping law, now on track to expire at midnight Saturday.

President Bush said Thursday that failure to update the Protect America Act will "harm our ability to monitor new terrorist activities and could reopen dangerous gaps in our intelligence."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in response, dubbed such talk fear-mongering. The president has every authority to continue needed eavesdropping under another law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), she said. Moreover, the authorities granted under the temporary surveillance law enacted in August will carry on for a year, she added.

To House Democrats, what's at stake is whether Mr. Bush – and future presidents – are accountable to Congress. "Whether the president is a Democrat or a Republican, they can't act outside the law," said Speaker Pelosi at a press briefing.

The issue is the sharpest confrontation over presidential powers since Democrats took control of Congress last year. "Oversight is an institutional obligation to ensure against abuse of power," Pelosi said in a briefing on Thursday.

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