After months of wrangling, the Senate on Thursday rejected White House calls and failed to advance sweeping legislation aimed at protecting American computer networks from cyberattacks.
The cloture vote to end debate on the bill was 52-46, short of the 60 votes needed to advance the measure.
The administration and top national-security and defense leaders had pressed the Senate to pass the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, but negotiations between Democratic supporters and Republican critics failed to yield an agreement.
"Despite the President’s repeated calls for Congress to act on this legislation, and despite pleas from numerous senior national security officials from this Administration and the Bush Administration, the politics of obstructionism, driven by special interest groups seeking to avoid accountability, prevented Congress from passing legislation to better protect our nation from potentially catastrophic cyber-attacks," the White House said in a statement, calling the situation a "profound disappointment."
Republicans in the Senate echoed industry concerns that the bill could lead to government regulation, but debate over the legislation devolved into finger pointing.
“No one doubts the needs to strengthen our cyberdefenses,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in floor remarks on Thursday morning. “We all recognize the problem, that’s really not the issue here; it’s the matter that the majority leader has tried to steamroll a bill.”
McConnell and other Republicans called on the Senate to continue to work out a compromise on cybersecurity.
Besides a lack of agreement over provisions of the bill, Democrats were steamed over Republican efforts to inject amendments that would repeal the 2010 health care law and ban certain abortions in the District of Columbia.
“Republicans are running like a pack of scared cats,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said on the floor before the vote. “We know how important this legislation is, we know it’s more important than getting a pat of the back from Chamber of Commerce.”
The lead sponsor of the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., said if Republicans had agreed to a limited list of germane amendments, the Senate could have returned in September to finish the bill.
“This is one of those days that I fear for my country and I’m not proud of the United States Senate,” Lieberman said. He said if Congress fails to act to secure American networks, it would be a "colossal abdication" of its responsibility.
The Cybersecurity Act would have established a system of voluntary security standards for certain critical businesses, encouraged businesses and government to share cyberthreat information, boosted programs to educate and train cybersecurity professionals, and updated federal network-security policies.
Republican and industry detractors such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, however, say that the government should have little—if any—role in setting standards for private companies. Other critics contend that the Homeland Security Department couldn’t handle an increased role in cybersecurity matters.