Republican senators bowed to the White House March 7, dropping their opposition to warrantless wiretapping by the National Security Agency in exchange for a fig-leaf concession by President Bush.

The deal, concocted by Vice President Dick Cheney, permits eavesdropping on Americans’ phone conversations without a warrant for 45 days. It creates a new seven-member Senate “terrorist surveillance subcommittee” that critics charge will be controlled by Bush.

Among those who caved in were “moderate” Republican Senators Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Chuck Hagel (Neb.) who earlier had threatened to support the Democrats’ demand for a full Senate investigation of the spying scandal. Trying to put a positive spin on their green light for spying on Americans, the GOP “moderates” claimed, “We are reasserting congressional responsibility of oversight.”

It came on the same day that the House voted 280-138 to extend the repressive USA Patriot Act, which had been stalled for months by disclosure that Bush had ordered the massive warrantless spying. The vote makes permanent repressive measures such as FBI spying on people’s medical records and the books they check out of public libraries. Four Senate Republicans negotiated with the House Republican leadership to clear the way for final passage.

Taken together, the NSA spy deal and the Patriot Act extension add up to an effort to legalize Bush-Cheney spying in flagrant violation of the Fourth Amendment. These deals expose the cowardice and treachery of House and Senate Republicans, including those “moderates” who pose as champions of the Bill of Rights. In the end they cave in and give Bush what he wants.

Another example of hypocritical GOP grandstanding is the congressional Republicans vowing to enact legislation barring the Dubai ports deal, in the name of “protecting national security.” It is a case of worried incumbents distancing themselves from Bush by hitting him from the right. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) wondered aloud if this is shadowboxing with the “acquiescence” of the White House.

These demagogues should be ousted from office next Nov. 7. It would give us the chance to repeal the Patriot Act and terminate spying on Americans.