GOP senators push cybersecurity bill that avoids ‘heavy hand of government’

Eight Republican senators introduced their own cybersecurity bill Thursday as an alternative to the measure backed by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine.).

Unlike the Lieberman-Collins measure, the Republicans Secure IT Act would not give the Homeland Security Department the power to require critical computer systems to meet certain security standards.

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The Republican bill is backed by Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Dan Coats (Ind.), Ron Johnson (Wis.) and Richard Burr (N.C.).

Now is not the time for Congress to be adding more government, more regulation, and more debt — especially when it is far from clear that any of it will enhance our security, Chambliss said in a news release. Our bill offers the right solution to improving our nation’s cybersecurity by encouraging collaboration, investment, and innovation.”

The GOP legislation would encourage private companies to share information about cyberthreats with the government and would empower the secretary of Commerce to set cybersecurity standards for government agencies. It would also update the criminal code for cybercrimes and toughen penalties.

“Our bill represents a new way forward in protecting the American people and the country’s cyber infrastructure from attack,” Grassley said. “Instead of the heavy hand of the government, our approach promotes information sharing and keeps the taxpayers’ wallets closed.”

Supporters of the Lieberman-Collins bill argued that the regulatory power is necessary to ensure that critical systems, such as electrical grids, are secure from cyberattacks. 

Vincent Morris, a spokesman for Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who also backs the bill, said he is “glad to see other senators recognize the severity of this threat,” but “we’re still convinced that you can’t get there without some new rules.”

Lieberman, Collins, Rockefeller and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) issued a joint statement in response to the introduction of the GOP bill.

“We are encouraged by our colleagues’ recognition that we must act to address the increasingly sophisticated and dangerous attacks on our national infrastructure,” they said. “We can no longer delay action on deciding how to deal with this critical issue, and we are eager to work with them to bring comprehensive cyber security legislation to the Senate floor as soon as possible.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) plans to bring the Lieberman-Collins bill straight to the Senate floor, skipping any committee votes.  

The Republican critics argued that the various committees with jurisdiction, including the Commerce, Judiciary, Energy, Intelligence and Homeland Security committees, should all have an opportunity to amend the legislation.

At a Homeland Security Committee hearing last month, McCain accused Lieberman of trying to ram his bill through Congress.

Lieberman argued that Congress has been working on cybersecurity legislation for years and that his bill incorporates elements of several pieces of legislation that have already been through the committee process.

“To treat the last Congress as a legislative mulligan by bypassing the committee process and bringing the legislation directly to the floor is not the appropriate way to begin consideration of an issue as complicated as cybersecurity,” McCain responded.