Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday he intends to push for a straight extension of expiring PATRIOT Act provisions, setting up a clash with House leaders who prefer a bill that would end the National Security Agency's bulk data collection program.McConnell controls the Senate calendar. If he wants to make sure there's enough time between now and Memorial Day, he can. But he doesn't have the votes right now for a clean extension in the Senate, and there isn't enough support for it in the House. The only way he can get it would be to wait until the very last minute before the provisions expire and force everyone to vote under duress. That's possibly a factor in Minority Leader Harry Reid's ploy to block action on fast-track authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, not allowing McConnell to jam Congress at the last minute.
McConnell said that, given the time constraints, he is planning to put on the Senate floor legislation to preserve the Section 215 bulk data initiative, as well as roving wiretap authorization and a so-called lone wolf provision allowing intelligence gathering on individuals who aren't connected to any known terrorist organization. […]
"The most likely outcome is some kind of extension," McConnell said. "It will be open for amendment whenever we fully turn to it. The question is whether we can do all of that between now and Memorial Day. And I can't tell you that right now."
Meanwhile, new information from the Snowden documents shows how the NSA can use the masses of information they collect and conduct "bulk listening." Through speech-to-text software, the NSA can automatically recognize and search for content within phone calls. This helps answer the "needle in the haystack" question of how the agency could possibly be dealing with the masses of information they collect on everyone's phone calls—they automate it. Not surprisingly, this technology was apparently developed in secret, without Congress's knowledge, and thus is outside of the scope of existing law.
These latest revelations aren't likely to help McConnell as he tries to make his case for reauthorizing the PATRIOT Act as is, but he still has control of the calendar. It's going to be up to Senate Democrats and a handful of Republicans to refuse to respond to blackmail and to let the expiring provisions die. Then they can come back and do some real reform, which could include restricting the agency's use of all this text they're creating.