The Senate Nov. 14 failed to advance a cybersecurity bill that
was brought back to the floor for reconsideration after a similar defeat over
Reiterating concerns raised by industry lobbyists about potential regulatory
burdens, Republicans again opposed a cloture motion to proceed to final passage
of the Cybersecurity Act (S. 3414).
The cloture motion, which required 60 votes for passage, was defeated
“Whatever we do for this bill is not enough for the Chamber of Commerce,”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said on the floor immediately after
the failed cloture vote. “Cybersecurity is dead for this Congress.”
Reid announced last month that he was giving the Senate one more chance this
year to pass cybersecurity legislation in light of growing threats to the
computer networks that operate the nation's critical infrastructure, such as
power plants and water systems (11 PVLR 1553, 10/22/12).
The Cybersecurity Act previously came to the floor shortly before the August
recess, but the legislation was ultimately blocked by Republicans, who argued
that Reid was seeking to ram the legislation forward without a fair and open
amendments process (11 PVLR 1227, 8/6/12).
“Unfortunately, this is like the movie 'Groundhog Day,' ” Sen. Charles
Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on the
floor as the bill was under reconsideration. “The majority continues to push the
same flawed legislation that failed to garner enough votes for consideration
just three months ago.”
A key area of contention has been language calling for voluntary
cybersecurity standards for critical parts of the private sector. The Chamber of
Commerce, which has actively lobbied against the bill, argues that the proposed
standards could easily translate into burdensome government regulations.
Meanwhile, in the wake of the Senate dispute, the Obama administration has
said that it is weighing cybersecurity steps that it can take on its own,
including the possibility of issuing an executive order (11 PVLR 1435,
Following the Senate vote, Reid issued a statement saying that he hopes
President Obama “uses all the authority of the executive branch at his disposal
to fully protect our nation from the cyber security threat.”
“Republicans today showed we cannot count on them to take this threat
seriously,” Reid said.
Among other provisions, the Cybersecurity Act calls for the government to
administer a voluntary program to encourage “critical infrastructure” operators
to adopt cybersecurity best practices. A previous version called for the
Department of Homeland Security to issue mandatory cybersecurity standards for
The lead sponsors of the Cybersecurity Act are Sens. Joseph Lieberman
(I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), the chairman and ranking member of the
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Senate Commerce
Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) and Senate Intelligence Chairman
Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) are co-sponsors.
Upon reconsideration of the bill, Collins was one of only four Republicans
who crossed party lines to vote in favor of advancing the measure. She was
joined by outgoing Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe (Maine), Richard Lugar (Ind.),
and Scott Brown (Mass.).
In a related development, the president recently signed a secret directive
that enables the military to act more aggressively to thwart cyber-attacks,
according to Nov. 14 news media reports.
A senior administration official confirmed in a statement to BNA that Obama
has signed a classified directive related to “cyber operations,” updating a
similar directive that dated back to 2004.
The updated directive does not provide any new authorities to U.S. military,
intelligence community, and law enforcement agencies, nor does it cover or
change the actions the government undertakes with the consent of private network
owners, the official said.
By Alexei Alexis
Full text of S. 3414 is available at http://op.bna.com/pl.nsf/r?Open=dapn-923kgx.