At hearing, Sens. McCain and Lieberman clash over cybersecurity measure

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) accused Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) of trying to ram through a flawed cybersecurity bill at a hearing on Thursday.

"Unfortunately, the bill introduced by the chairman and ranking member has already been placed on the calendar by the majority leader without a single markup or any executive business meeting by any committee of relevant jurisdiction," McCain said. "My friends, that’s wrong."

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Lieberman and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the panel's ranking member, argued that Congress has been working on cybersecurity legislation for years and that their bill incorporates elements of several pieces of legislation that have already been through the committee process.

"To suggest that this bill should move directly to the Senate Floor because it has ‘been around’ since 2009 is outrageous," McCain said. "First, the bill was introduced two days ago. Secondly, where do Senate Rules state that a bill’s progress in a previous Congress can supplant the necessary work on that bill in the present one?"

McCain noted that four senators on the Homeland Security Committee were not on the panel in the previous Congress.

McCain is one of seven GOP senators who wrote to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday urging him to delay the cybersecurity measure and allow for several committees to amend it.

He said he plans to introduce his own alternative cybersecurity measure after Congress returns from its Presidents Day break.

Lieberman shook his head throughout McCain's remarks. 

"I have to be honest, I'm disappointed by your statement," Lieberman said.

He said the bill's sponsors have reached out to its critics, including the seven Republicans who signed the letter to Reid. 

"A lot of people including yourself have not come to the table," Lieberman said to McCain.

He added he is glad McCain will introduce his own proposal and said he plans to consider it.

Lieberman's cybersecurity legislation would give the Homeland Security Department regulatory authority over companies with computer systems crucial to the nation's economic and physical security. The bill would require that the companies take adequate precautions to safeguard their systems and would increase information-sharing about cyber threats between the private sector and the government. 

McCain said he is concerned the bill will duplicate cybersecurity efforts by the Defense Department, grow the budget deficit and impose burdensome regulations on businesses.

"If the legislation before us today were enacted into law, unelected bureaucrats at the DHS could promulgate prescriptive regulations on American businesses, which own roughly 90 percent of critical cyber infrastructure," McCain said. "The regulations that would be created under this new authority would stymie job-creation, blur the definition of private property rights and divert resources from actual cybersecurity to compliance with government mandates."

Lieberman and Collins argued that their bill is about security — not regulation. Their legislation, they said, will protect American businesses by guarding against cyber threats.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano warned the committee there could be grave consequences if Congress does not act to protect cybersecurity.

"Think about how many people could die if a cyber terrorist attacked our air traffic control system and planes slammed into one another," Rockefeller said. "Or if rail-switching networks were hacked — causing trains carrying people, or hazardous materials — to derail and collide in the midst of some of our most populated urban areas, like Chicago, New York, San Francisco or Washington."

Feinstein said she hopes to add an amendment on the Senate floor to establish a national requirement for companies to notify their consumers if their data is hacked.