Key House Dem plots cyber strategy

The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee says he remains hopeful the Senate will move on a cybersecurity bill this year. 

Failing that, Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) told The Hill he is already plotting for 2015.

In a surprise development Thursday, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said the Senate was close to releasing a version of his own cyber bill, which would enable the private sector to trade information with the Homeland Security Department (DHS).

Ruppersberger, co-sponsor of a more controversial measure to facilitate a public sector cyber threat exchange with the National Security Agency (NSA), talked strategy with McCaul on Wednesday and chatted again with his staff Thursday.

“If we can’t get the Senate, McCaul and I are talking right now about moving forward in the next session,” said Ruppersberger, whose district is home to the NSA's headquarters.

With House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) — Ruppersberger’s other co-sponsor — set to retire at the end of this year, Ruppersberger and McCaul will be two of the House’s biggest proponents on cyber information-sharing legislation.

“McCaul and I have a close relationship,” Ruppersberger said. “We’re going to try and work together on some of these issues.”

But while McCaul will remain head of the Intelligence Committee, term limits make it likely that Ruppersberger will get a new committee assignment come January. 

"I’m going to make sure I’m going to stay on top of this," Ruppersberger said.

All sides involved — industry interests, lawmakers, law enforcement, privacy groups — agree the government and private sector have to enhance their exchange of cyber knowledge.

But privacy advocates and the White House have prioritized moving first on legislation to curb NSA authority in the wake of government leaker Edward Snowden's disclosure of numerous secret spy programs that collect information on Americans. The Senate recently killed a bill to eliminate one of those programs.

That fear of expanding the NSA’s power has stalled Ruppersberger’s bill.

Because McCaul’s measure only deals with the DHS, not the NSA, it has won the  blessing of privacy groups — and a foothold in the lame-duck session.

“We need a lot more than just McCaul’s bill,” Ruppersberger said. “It’s about all these facets having to work together."

McCaul’s bill would codify the DHS’s cybersecurity role and officially authorize the agency’s existing cybersecurity center. Ruppersberger’s measure would then lean heavily on the DHS.

“I’ll tell ya, if that’s happening, Homeland’s going to need millions of dollars,” Ruppersberger added. “A lot more resources than they have now.”

Of course, that requires the House and Senate to work together — no easy task.

“We can pass bills all day long in the House, but you have to get the Senate,” the Maryland Democrat said.

He sees hope with incoming Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrBattle lines drawn over Biden's support for vaccine waivers FDA unveils plan to ban menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars The Hill's Morning Report - Biden to country: 'Turning peril into possibility' MORE (R-N.C.). The two were colleagues on the Intelligence Committee during Burr’s time in the House.

“I have a close relationship with Richard Burr,” Ruppersberger said. “I think we all understand the threats, and hopefully now, we can all come together on these things that are so serious.”