Senate advances bill to bolster cybersecurity defenses in 84-11 vote

The Senate agreed on Thursday to move forward with Sen. Joe Lieberman's (I-Conn.) cybersecurity bill after months of contentious negotiations.

The motion to proceed to the Cybersecurity Act was approved 84-11 after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) agreed to an open amendment process. 

The bipartisan Cybersecurity Act, S. 3414, aims to protect the nation from cyberattacks against critical infrastructure such as the electrical grid, banking systems, transportation networks and others. 

President Obama said Thursday that he supports the revised version of the bill introduced by Lieberman, but noted it lacked "some of the key provisions of earlier bills."

Although the bill cleared this test vote, it faces an uphill battle to reach the finish line. While senators are meeting to try and reach a final agreement, disagreements remain.

"The conversations are very productive, but obviously there's a lot of work to do and not very much time to do it," Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), one of the lead negotiators, said Thursday morning.

Republicans voting against the motion to proceed to the bill were Sens. Mike Johanns (Neb.), Rand Paul (Ky.), Ron Johnson (Wis.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Dean Heller (Nev.), Pat Roberts (Kan.), Mike Enzi (Wyo.), John Barrasso (Wyo.) and Jerry Moran (Kan.).

Democrats opposing the motion to proceed were Sens. Jon Tester (Mont.) and Max Baucus (Mont.).

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In a bid to win GOP support, Lieberman introduced a revised version of the bill last week that scaled back provisions mandating critical operators meet a set of security standards developed, in part, by the Homeland Security Department. 

The latest version of the bill proposes to establish a program where companies operating critical infrastructure would certify that they meet security standards approved by a government-led agency in exchange for incentives, such as liability protections.

Reid said he would welcome more amendments during the voting process, which Republicans said was key to winning their support for moving forward on the legislation.

“There’s plenty of room for changes,” Reid said on the floor Thursday. “Let’s have as many amendments as people feel appropriate.”

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), one of the sponsors of the competing Securte It Act, said earlier that she and the other sponsors wouldn’t block a vote on the Cybersecurity Act if the amendment process were truly open.

"I don't think anyone in our group wants to hold up dealing with cybersecurity. We know that America's systems could be under threat and some have been hacked into already," she said. "As long as we have an amendment process and are not shut out of this, we will vote to move forward to the bill."

Lieberman and the co-sponsors of his bill have been meeting with the Republican backers of the alternative Secure It Act to try to hammer out an agreement that would bridge the differences between the two bills. The members met Thursday morning and plan to meet again on Friday and next week.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a sponsor of the Cybersecurity Act, said she’s open to changes but said the legislation should to be passed quickly for the sake of national security.

“We must act and we must act now,” Collins said Wednesday. “We can’t afford to wait for a cyber 9/11 before taking action on this legislation.”

Reid said he’d like to spend most of next week voting on the amendments offered.

As a show of good faith that those working on the Cybersecurity Act are open to changes, Collins pointed out that some changes already have been made to the bill.

“We have revised our bill in a very substantial way,” Collins said, adding that many of the standards related to the private sector are now optional. “This shows a willingness to adopt changes, and we’re still open to changes.”

When originally proposed, the bill got pushback from industry groups and some lawmakers concerned about Internet privacy.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and IBM sent out letters saying they oppose the bill in its current form, arguing it would saddle industry with additional regulations. However, the bill won endorsements from tech giants Cisco and Oracle.

The cybersecurity bill is the culmination of more than a year of effort by working groups composed of staff from committees with jurisdiction over cybersecurity, including Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Commerce, and Intelligence. The working groups spent months developing legislative language for the bill and included language from earlier cybersecurity bills that had passed out of committee.

— Brendan Sasso contributed to this report.

— This story was corrected at 5 p.m. to reflect that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and IBM oppose the bill in its current form.