Floor crunch could spike cyber bill

Francis Rivera

Senators are wary about Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellOvernight Healthcare: House loosens pesticide rules to fight Zika | A GOP bill that keeps some of ObamaCare | More proof of pending premium hikes Senate votes to block financial adviser rule Reid defends embattled VA secretary MORE’s plan to pivot quickly to a stalled cybersecurity bill next week in the waning days before the upper chamber’s August recess.

Immediately after the Kentucky Republican revealed his intent to bring up the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) — intended to boost the public-private sharing of cyber threat data — both supporters and opponents of the bill questioned the strategy.

“I have mixed feelings about it,” Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinSenate panel advances spy policy bill, after House approves its own version Apple hires leading security expert amid encryption fight Dem slams GOP for skipping vote on 'back doors' in devices MORE (D-Calif.), the bill’s co-sponsor, told The Hill. “I’d obviously like to get it done. We’re working with people. Whether it can get done in a short floor time or not, I don’t know.”

For months, CISA has been mired in an ongoing skirmish over digital privacy, which could result in a bruising debate when the bill does hit the floor.

“It’d be good if it came up. I don’t know if we have time to finish it,” Sen. Chuck SchumerCharles SchumerOvernight Healthcare: House, Senate on collision course over Zika funding Ryan goes all-in on Puerto Rico Cruz's dad: Trump 'would be worse than Hillary Clinton' MORE (D-N.Y.), a cyber bill backer and the third-ranking Democrat, told The Hill. “It would be good to start it. The question is, do a lot of the Republicans add totally extraneous amendments? Are they going to try to turn cyber into something else?”

Privacy and civil liberties advocates are worried the bill would create another venue for the government’s intelligence arm to collect sensitive data on Americans only months after Congress voted to rein in the National Security Agency’s surveillance powers.

But industry groups, many lawmakers and national security experts insist a bolstered public-private data exchange is necessary to better understand and thwart vicious cyber threats. Inaction will leave government and commercial networks exposed to increasingly dangerous hackers, they say.

These backers believe existing CISA provisions already guarantee that personal information will be removed before data is shared with the intelligence community. 

Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahyGrassley hints at changes on email privacy reform Stick to the facts on the Cuba travel ban 19 months before deadline, lawmakers draw battle lines on spying powers MORE (D-Vt.), a vocal opponent of the bill as written, accused McConnell of trying to evade privacy advocates’ concerns.

“If the majority leader is serious about improving our nation’s cybersecurity, he will listen to Sen. Feinstein and others who have called for a meaningful amendment process,” Leahy said in a statement. “If he wants yet another political stunt, he will try to jam this bill through the Senate just days before the August recess. That is not the responsible way to legislate about our nation’s cybersecurity.”

Leahy and Sen. Ron WydenRon WydenSenate panel advances spy policy bill, after House approves its own version Overnight Cybersecurity: House to offer bill on government hacking powers House to offer bill blocking government hacking powers MORE (D-Ore.) are leading an expanding caucus within the Senate that is trying to significantly edit the bill.

They say the bill does more to protect the privacy of companies than it does the privacy of individuals.

CISA shields companies from legal liability when sharing their cyber threat data with the government. If companies are going to be offered this protection, Wyden argued, there should be stricter requirements for firms to strip personal information before handing data over to the government.

“In effect, companies could dump large quantities of their data to the government after only a cursory review,” Wyden told reporters during a Thursday conference call.

Because of this opposition — expected from both the far left and far right — a protracted floor debate is expected as senators look to stuff the legislation with add-ons.

“I just want to make sure that individual privacy is maintained, that we follow the Constitution as we go along,” Sen. Dean HellerDean HellerLake Mead hits record low water level Tough choice for vulnerable GOP senators: Embrace or reject Trump Press: Forget about GOP unity in 2016 MORE (R-Nev.) told The Hill. “There's a few of us that feel that way and it’s probably pretty easy to figure out which few it is.”

In June, Heller and Sens. Ted CruzTed CruzTrump wins Washington state primary Overnight Cybersecurity: House to offer bill on government hacking powers Overnight Tech: Rubio, Cruz take up internet domain fight MORE (R-Texas), Rand PaulRand PaulOvernight Defense: VA chief 'deeply' regrets Disney remark; Senate fight brews over Gitmo Paul ties release of 9/11 docs to defense bill Will Ted Cruz let it go? MORE (R-Ky.) and Mike LeeMike LeeSenate set for showdown over women in the draft Overnight Finance: Path clears for Puerto Rico bill | GOP senator casts doubt on IRS impeachment | Senate approves .1B for Zika Overnight Tech: Trade groups press NC on bathroom law MORE (R-Utah) joined Democrats to vote against attaching the cyber bill’s language to a recent defense authorization bill. The maneuver would have prohibited lawmakers from offering amendments to the CISA text.

“I think a bill needs to happen, I do, but I just want to make sure we don’t go too far,” Heller said.

Both Heller’s GOP group and numerous Democrats are vying to propose their own amendments, a process sure to clog floor time.

Sen. Mark WarnerMark WarnerLawmaker bemoans tax 'buzzsaw' for on-demand economy workers Reid throws wrench into Clinton vice presidential picks Reid: 'Hell no' to VP pick from state with a Republican governor MORE (D-Va.), a supporter of moving swiftly on a cyber bill, nonetheless told The Hill “we need amendments” and that he would suggest “a series” of his own.

Leahy said he is angling to put forward several privacy-focused alterations.

“There’s a lot of improvements that have to be made,” he told reporters.

Schumer indicated that Democrats would be open to an across-the-aisle deal that could speed the process.

“We will offer the Republicans an agreement to a certain number of amendments, all relative to the bill,” he said.

But since CISA opposition doesn’t split evenly along party lines, such a deal may be difficult to strike.

“I think what’s going to be holding up the bill is their side,” Schumer added. “The Ted Cruzs and others of the world who want amendments unrelated the bill and won't let it go forward.”