Cybersecurity may not be a partisan issue, but some battles are now forming along party lines.
Senate Democrats on Wednesday pushed back against complaints by Republicans that a plan to bring broad cybersecurity legislation to the floor in the next few weeks is leaving many alternative proposals in the dust.
Leaders of the Senate Homeland Security, Intelligence, and Commerce committees, including Homeland Security ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine, introduced long-expected legislation on Tuesday that would streamline government cybersecurity efforts and give the Homeland Security Department more oversight over some critical private networks.
Hot-button issues like the payroll-tax holiday and insider-trading legislation have already pushed off Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s goal to have the bill on the Senate floor in the first work period of 2012, which ends this week. Despite the delay, a Democratic aide said Reid fully intends to consider the legislation in the next few weeks.
The top Republicans on seven committees, including Commerce and Intelligence, as well as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., criticized the substance of the bill —and Senate leaders for not using regular order to bring it to the floor.
Senate Commerce ranking member Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said the “heavy-handed, costly” regulation in the bill is the wrong way to go. She joined other Republicans in asking Reid to have the bill considered in committee before bringing it to the floor.
That, says Democratic aides, would be a mistake. The process for developing the bill was designed to cross the many committees that have a stake in cybersecurity, which covers areas ranging from mobile devices and e-mail to national security and terrorism.
Senate Commerce spokesman Vincent Morris said the measure is the product of three years of work and is based on several different pieces of legislation that were already marked up in committees.
“It’s too bad that Republicans would so blatantly try and drag their heels on a bill as important as cybersecurity,” he said. “To try and go back to the drawing board at this point in the process is an insult to members who have met often and worked hard to reach consensus during the last two years. If they aren’t interested in getting a bill done now, it’s unclear whether they ever will.”
Other issues like data-breach protection and some cybercrime provisions were not included in the bill because they did not yet enjoy broad bipartisan agreement, but a Senate Democratic aide said they are likely to be considered on the floor.
On Wednesday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., introduced legislation to stiffen the penalties for some cybercrimes. That bill has been offered as an amendment to previous pieces of legislation and is likely to make an appearance in the coming cybersecurity floor debate.
When the Homeland Security Committee holds a hearing on the legislation on Thursday, supporters of the bill will be seeking to highlight what they call the “industry-friendly” aspects of the bill.
Many businesses and industry organizations have signaled that they are pleased with the bill so far. Cisco, Oracle, the Information Technology Industry Council, and TechAmerica are among those voicing support.
“This bill is a careful and bipartisan approach to a serious national-security challenge and provides a comprehensive framework for protecting our most critical infrastructure, without forcing unnecessarily broad mandates on industry,” TechAmerica CEO Dan Varroney said in a statement.
This article appears in the Feb. 16, 2012, edition of National Journal Daily.