CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified Sen. John McCain's position on the Senate Armed Services Committee. He is ranking member.
As Congress enters its final few weeks before its August recess, Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member John McCain, R-Ariz., on Monday castigated Senate leaders for planning to debate a "controversial and flawed" cybersecurity bill later this week.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is planning to bring up the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 for floor debate as early as Wednesday. The bill was drafted by leaders of the Senate Homeland Security, Commerce, and Intelligence committees and enjoys the backing of the White House, but it has faced Republican criticism.
"Based on the procedures the Senate has been following over the past few years--with little or no opportunity for debate and amendments--the majority leader apparently intends to rush through the Senate a flawed piece of legislation," McCain said in a floor speech. "The cybersecurity bill that he intends to call up later this week is greatly in need of improvement, both in the area of information-sharing among all federal agencies and the appropriate approach to ensuring critical infrastructure protection."
Although McCain has been among the most ardent critics of the Cybersecurity Act, the bill may not need his support to pass. If the compromise language proposed by the bill's sponsors can win over potential swing votes like Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, then the legislation may have enough votes to pass.
The sponsors of the Cybersecurity Act unveiled compromise language last week that removed some of the most stringent cybersecurity standard-setting authority for the Homeland Security Department. McCain and many other Republicans say that standards for critical infrastructure, such as electric grids, should be left up to the private sector.
But the compromise language was not enough for McCain, who has helped introduce competing cybersecurity legislation and called on the Senate to consider the Defense Authorization Act, marked up in his committee, before tackling the cybersecurity proposals.
"Without significant amendment, the current [cybersecurity] bill the majority leader intends to push through the Senate has zero chance of passing in the House or ever being signed into law," McCain said. "I find it difficult to understand why the majority leader would be willing to tie up the Senate’s time on this flawed bill."
Although President Obama has called for the bill's passage, its chances in the House are unclear. In April, the House passed a slate of cybersecurity bills, but it left out more-controversial aspects, such as security standards. A provision on information in one of the House bills also sparked privacy concerns.
One of the bill's main sponsors, Senate Homeland Security Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., has said he thinks the bill won't survive if the Senate doesn't consider it before the August recess. On Tuesday, Lieberman and other sponsors of the Cybersecurity Act are planning a press conference to launch their make-or-break effort.
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