Lawmakers to oppose spending bill over cyber language

Lawmakers to oppose spending bill over cyber language
© Greg Nash

A small group of lawmakers will vote against the sweeping omnibus spending deal because of the inclusion of a cybersecurity bill.

“I just think it’s very troubling,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) told The Hill. “The bill should not be in the omnibus. It’s a surveillance bill more than a cyber bill.”

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“I’m going to vote against the omnibus as a consequence,” she added.

The cyber bill would encourage businesses to share more data on hackers with the government.

“There’s plenty wrong with this omnibus, but there's nothing more egregious than the cyber language they secretly slipped in,” Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashGOP leaders agree to consider Dec. 30 spending bill House approves motion to go to tax conference — with drama Overnight Finance: House approves motion to go to tax conference — with drama | GOP leaders to consider Dec. 30 spending bill | Justices skeptical of ban on sports betting | Mulvaney won't fire official who sued him MORE (R-Mich.) told The Hill by email.

Proponents of the bill say the the decision to attach was necessary to avoid further delays on much-needed legislation. A broad swath of lawmakers, many industry groups and the White House support the measure as a critical first step to help the country better respond to cyberattacks.

“This is the most protective of privacy of any cyber bill that we have advanced and we need to keep in mind the overriding interest all Americans have in protecting their privacy from these innumerable hacks,” Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffHouse Democrat slams Donald Trump Jr. for ‘serious case of amnesia’ after testimony Top intel Dem: Trump Jr. refused to answer questions about Trump Tower discussions with father Erik Prince says meeting with Russian banker unrelated to Trump campaign MORE (D-Calif.), a co-sponsor of his panel’s cyber bill, told The Hill. “Our privacy is being violated every day. And the longer we delay on measures like this, the more we subject ourselves to those kind of intrusions into our privacy.”

But privacy groups and civil liberties advocates have warned the bill could shuttle more of Americans’ personal data to the National Security Agency (NSA).

Lofgren and Amash were two of the four lawmakers who signed a letter Tuesday expressing frustration at how lawmakers had merged three bills to create the final version, which was released overnight as part of the $1.15 trillion omnibus spending bill.

Lawmakers have been working on the cyber language the Senate passed in its Intelligence Committee-originated bill in October. The House passed its two complementary bills in April: one from that chamber's Intelligence panel and another from Homeland Security.

But rather than conduct a more formal conference between the two chambers, lawmakers relied on unofficial discussions to produce the compromise text, due to some disagreements between the House and Senate over the conference process and the unusual need to combine three bills.

Lofgren and Amash joined Reps. Ted PoeLloyd (Ted) Theodore PoeSeven Texas lawmakers leaving Congress means a younger, more diverse delegation Clock ticking down on NSA surveillance powers Mounting GOP retirements threaten House majority MORE (R-Texas) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) on the letter that denounced this process.

“Neither negotiations — nor even bill text — have been made public,” they said. “We cannot cast such a consequential vote with no input.”

A spokesman for Polis said the tactic heavily contributed to the lawmaker’s decision to vote against the omnibus.

“There are several provisions in the bill that concern him, but the last-minute addition of the cybersecurity bill is one of the most serious,” said the representative in an email.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the other co-sponsor of his committee’s bill, told The Hill that several senators had threatened to permanently stall an official conference.

“Then you have a dead process,” he said. “And you have cyberattacks occurring.”

“You’ve got to attach it to something,” said House Homeland Security Committee ranking member Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who co-sponsored his panel’s bill. “We were not able to get a conference on the bill itself, so this is a vehicle. That’s how I see it.”

Schiff acknowledged that the process wasn’t perfect. But it was the best path under the circumstances, he said.

“In an ideal world we wouldn’t have omnibuses, but I think after three years of working to move this issue forward we were fortunate to get on the train that’s moving,” he told The Hill.

Late Wednesday, Lofgren sent a follow-up letter to her colleagues detailing objections to the actual text.

“What was intended to be a cybersecurity bill to facilitate the sharing of information between the private sector and government was instead drafted in such a way that it has effectively become a surveillance bill, and allows information shared by companies to be used by the government to prosecute unrelated crimes,” the letter reads.

Amash, Polis signed the letter, as did Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Blake FarentholdRandolph (Blake) Blake FarentholdConyers attorney: Congressman won't pay settlement back because it was 'cleared' Farenthold accuser: 'It's been a tough road’ Accuser says GOP lawmaker 'blackballed' her from finding another job after settling sexual harassment suit MORE (R-Texas).

The bill's backers have aggressively pushed back against these claims, pointing to myriad privacy clauses and anti-surveillance language in the text.

But these protests are shared by a small and vocal contingent of privacy- and civil liberties-minded lawmakers on both the left and the right.

Whether the group unites under their cyber bill opposition to try to stall the omnibus is less clear.

“A number of members have talked to me about it,” Lofgren said. “They’re concerned about it, but they have to weigh the other elements of the [omnibus], which I understand.”

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenDemocratic senator predicts Franken will resign Thursday Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign Lobbying world MORE, the upper chamber’s leading critic of its cyber bill, is a prime example.

The Oregon Democrat has vowed to fight or alter the cyber bill using every means possible. But as the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, Wyden will be forced to consider his cyber opposition against numerous other provisions he may support.

Wyden’s office said the lawmaker had not yet decided how he would vote on the omnibus.

Amash encouraged his colleagues to stand with him.

“A vote for the omnibus is a vote to support unconstitutional surveillance on all Americans,” he said. “It's probably the worst anti-privacy vote in Congress since the Patriot Act.”

The bill’s backers don’t believe this cyber opposition is enough to derail the entire omnibus.

“I hear there are a lot of issues around the omnibus, but I have not heard that cyber is one of them,” Thompson said.

“I think there are much bigger fish to fry in the omnibus in terms of what people are concerned about,” Schiff agreed, citing controversial oil provisions.

Nunes thinks the cyber bill has given omnibus critics an easy out to explain their opposition.

“The appropriate question to ask people complaining about this is, ‘So let’s pull out cyber, you going to vote for the omnibus?’” he said.

“I think I know the answer.”