Cybersecurity Bill Faces Time Crunch as Recess Approaches

Unless a deal is struck, amendments could slow the bill’s progress and hinder its chances of passing before the end of the week.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks at a news briefing at the Capitol on July 30, 2015.
National Journal
Kaveh Waddell
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Kaveh Waddell
Aug. 2, 2015, 4:05 p.m.

With the Sen­ate clock­ing out for the sum­mer at the end of the week, there is pre­cious little time to get skep­tic­al sen­at­ors on board for a ma­jor over­haul of the na­tion’s cy­ber­se­cur­ity laws — the fi­nal item on Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell’s pre-re­cess check­list.

Already, pri­vacy ad­voc­ates have launched a co­ordin­ated push to point out what they con­sider a lack of pri­vacy pro­tec­tions in the bill, which is in­ten­ded to fa­cil­it­ate cy­ber­se­cur­ity co­ordin­a­tion between the private sec­tor and the gov­ern­ment. Sup­port­ers say the law would al­low both to build more se­cure de­fenses against on­line in­truders.

Mc­Con­nell’s pro­posed tim­ing raised the ire of key sen­at­ors, in­clud­ing one of the Sen­ate’s most out­spoken pri­vacy ad­voc­ates, Ver­mont Demo­crat Patrick Leahy, who called the tim­ing a “polit­ic­al stunt.”

The ma­jor­ity lead­er has not form­ally moved to line up the vote to open the de­bate on the Cy­ber In­form­a­tion-Shar­ing Act, or CISA. Mc­Con­nell spokes­man Don Stew­art said Fri­day that the ma­jor­ity lead­er would try to get con­sent to move for­ward on the cy­ber­se­cur­ity bill as soon as pos­sible if a Monday even­ing vote to de­fund Planned Par­ent­hood failed.

Oth­er­wise, the Sen­ate would take up the cy­ber­se­cur­ity bill on Wed­nes­day and fin­ish it as early as Thursday even­ing, al­low­ing mem­bers to leave town for the Au­gust re­cess that night or Fri­day morn­ing, Stew­art said.

Al­though CISA passed out of the Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee nearly un­an­im­ously in March, sen­at­ors from both parties are push­ing to add amend­ments to the bill. Giv­en the tight sched­ule be­fore re­cess, that could be a ma­jor road­b­lock to get­ting the le­gis­la­tion fin­ished without a deal fa­cil­it­ated by lead­er­ship.

Sen. Chuck Schu­mer on Thursday in­dic­ated such a deal is in the works. “We will of­fer Re­pub­lic­ans an agree­ment to a cer­tain num­ber of amend­ments all rel­ev­ant to the bill, [Demo­crat­ic amend­ments], cer­tain num­ber of Re­pub­lic­an [amend­ments], and move for­ward on the bill,” the New York Demo­crat told re­port­ers.

The de­mand for modi­fic­a­tions to the bill’s lan­guage is large and bi­par­tis­an, Ore­gon Sen. Ron Wyden, a Demo­crat, said Thursday.

“Des­pite the fact that the vote in the com­mit­tee will be 14 to 1 — I get that — there’s go­ing to be tre­mend­ous in­terest in the United States Sen­ate in amend­ments that will change this le­gis­la­tion,” Wyden, who cast the dis­sent­ing vote in the in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee in March, said in a call with re­port­ers. “A num­ber of Demo­crats and a num­ber of Re­pub­lic­ans have ex­pressed to me an in­terest in amend­ing the bill.”

Sen. Mark Warner, a Demo­crat­ic mem­ber of the in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee, in­tends to of­fer four amend­ments, an aide to the sen­at­or from Vir­gin­ia said Thursday.

And a bill in­tro­duced last week by the top mem­bers of the Sen­ate Home­land Se­cur­ity Com­mit­tee — Chair­man Ron John­son and rank­ing mem­ber Thomas Carp­er — will also be offered as an amend­ment to CISA, a Sen­ate aide said Thursday. The meas­ure, which passed out of the com­mit­tee un­an­im­ously Wed­nes­day, would re­quire agen­cies to hone their cy­ber­se­cur­ity prac­tices and ac­cel­er­ate the de­ploy­ment of Ein­stein, a cy­ber­de­fense sys­tem de­veloped by the Home­land Se­cur­ity De­part­ment.

Leahy called Thursday for Mc­Con­nell to al­low time for sen­at­ors to of­fer amend­ments. “If the Ma­jor­ity Lead­er is ser­i­ous about im­prov­ing our na­tion’s cy­ber­se­cur­ity, he will listen to Sen­at­or [Di­anne] Fein­stein and oth­ers who have called for a mean­ing­ful amend­ment pro­cess,” Leahy said in a state­ment, re­fer­ring to the rank­ing mem­ber of the Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee and a CISA co­spon­sor.

For her part, Fein­stein told The Hill she had “mixed feel­ings” about her bill’s last-minute in­tro­duc­tion. “I’d ob­vi­ously like to get it done. We’re work­ing with people,” she said. “Wheth­er it can get done in a short floor time or not, I don’t know.”

Even if CISA makes it through the Sen­ate this week, it will need to be aligned with two cy­ber­in­form­a­tion-shar­ing pro­pos­als in the House. The bills, which ori­gin­ated in dif­fer­ent com­mit­tees, dif­fer from each oth­er on cer­tain points, but they are even more dis­tinct from the bill be­ing con­sidered in the Sen­ate.

Rep. Mi­chael Mc­Caul, chair­man of the House Home­land Se­cur­ity Com­mit­tee and au­thor of one of the House bills, has said the cur­rent Sen­ate bill would not sur­vive in the House be­cause of wor­ries about sur­veil­lance.

Sen­at­ors may have a chance to ad­dress the House’s con­cerns with their amend­ments to CISA. Adding a pro­vi­sion about Ein­stein, the DHS net­work se­cur­ity pro­gram, would bring the Sen­ate bill closer in line with the House of­fer­ings, a Sen­ate aide said Thursday, and could make it easi­er to marry the bills.

But the Ein­stein ad­di­tion does little to ad­dress pri­vacy con­cerns, which will likely be the fo­cus of oth­er pro­posed amend­ments to CISA. As the Sen­ate works out what will be in its fi­nal bill, the House is tak­ing a “wait-and-see” ap­proach, a con­gres­sion­al aide said Thursday.

If CISA fails to move for­ward be­fore re­cess be­gins, it will have to com­pete with oth­er press­ing prob­lems — in­clud­ing what is sure to be a bloody fight over ap­pro­pri­ations — for sen­at­ors’ at­ten­tion once they re­turn in Septem­ber.

Still, Wyden says keep­ing CISA from get­ting a vote this week would be a “tem­por­ary win” for pri­vacy ad­voc­ates. He said the grass­roots cam­paign against the bill, which has so far got­ten pro­test­ers to send over 6 mil­lion faxes to Con­gress re­gis­ter­ing their dis­ap­prov­al, will have more of a chance to sink its teeth in­to mem­bers of Con­gress as they meet with their con­stitu­ents.

This art­icle has been up­dated to cla­ri­fy the bill’s timeline this week if con­sent is reached to move it for­ward.

Sarah Mimms contributed to this article.
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