The long battle for cybersecurity legislation ended Thursday as the Senate failed to pass a motion to end debate on the bill.
The Cybersecurity Act, introduced by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), was rejected on a 52-46 vote — 60 votes were required to move forward with the legislation. The bill's collapse likely kills any legislative action on cybersecurity this year, punting efforts to 2013.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said the bill was critical for the nation’s security, but the powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce objected to the bill.
“We know how important this legislation is, we know it’s more important than getting a pat on the back from Chamber of Commerce,” Reid said Thursday before the vote. “That’s why Republicans are running like a pack of scared cats.”
The defeat of the bill also deals a heavy blow to the White House, which lobbied hard for passage all year. The Obama administration held a series of classified briefings for senators to underscore the seriousness of the cyber threat facing the United States and also published a string of op-eds from defense officials urging passage of the bill.
In a statement released shortly after the vote, White House press secretary Jay Carney criticized Republican opposition to the bill and called Congress's stalemate on cybersecurity "a profound disappointment."
"Senate Republican opposition to this vital national security bill, coupled with the deeply-flawed House information sharing bill that threatens personal privacy while doing nothing to protect the nation’s critical infrastructure, is a profound disappointment," Carney said. "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."
Republican senators that voted for the bill were Collins and Sens. Dick Lugar (Ind.), Dan Coats (Ind.) — who co-sponsored the rival bill — and Scott Brown (Mass.). Democrats voting against the bill were Sens. Ron Wyden (Ore.), Max Baucus (Mont.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Jon Tester (Mont.) and Reid. Reid voted against the measure as a procedural move so that he can then bring the bill back to the floor later.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) accused Reid of not having an open process with this bill.
“No one doubts the needs to strengthen our cyber defenses,” McConnell said 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.”
Republicans also objected to the bill because they thought it would require too much from businesses. The Chamber of Commerce lobbied heavily against the legislation, despite a compromise that would have made all of the cybersecurity standards voluntary for businesses.
“I am disappointed, perplexed and somewhat confused about how the Republicans want to proceed,” Reid said. “Clearly they won’t until they have a sign-off from Chamber of Commerce.”
Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas) had their own bill, the SECURE IT Act, which focused more on improving information-sharing about potential cyber threats between the government and industry, rather than critical private infrastructures.
McCain said he didn’t think the business community should be left out of the debate, and suggested that more time be put into the bill.
“There are those that believe any legislation is better than no legislation,” McCain said. “I’ve been around long enough to know that isn’t true.”
The group of bipartisan senators worked feverishly to strike a deal on amendments, but to no avail.
Part of the problem, Reid said, was that Republicans were insisting on amendment votes that were not germane to cybersecurity.
“Instead of substantive amendments that deal with our nation’s cybersecurity, they are insisting on political show votes,” Reid said after McConnell requested a vote on repealing the Affordable Care Act.
Lieberman lamented that senators couldn't come together on a list of amendments both sides could agree on, saying that the cybersecurity bill was serving as "yet another vehicle for partisan ideological shots at one another."
"I'm not proud of the United States Senate," Lieberman said. "We've got a crisis and it's one that we all acknowledge."
Collins said it was “irresponsible” for the Senate not to move forward on the bill.
“How many more implorings do we need from our nation's top homeland and military officials to act?” Collins questioned shortly before the vote.
McCain said he hopes the negotiations continue so that the bill could be taken up again in September when the Senate returns from recess.
“We should be spending our time setting up a framework that we could take up when we’re back in the first week of September,” McCain said. “I hope that this vote does not have a chilling effect on what I considered progress being made.”
With no more than two weeks' of working days scheduled in the Senate before the election, it seems unlikely that the cybersecurity bill would be taken up in September.
— This story was last updated at 12:29 p.m.