Senate Dems threaten to block cyber bill as defense add-on

Richard Burr, NSA
ABC News

Senate debate was tied up Wednesday as Democrats lashed out against an upcoming vote on whether to attach the Senate’s main cyber bill to the defense budget bill.

Majority Leader McConnell (R-Ky.) wants to combine a stalled cyber measure — intended to boost the public-private exchange of hacking information — with the annual defense authorization measure under consideration this week.

{mosads}It’s an effort to rush the bill, known as the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), in the wake of the massive data breach at the Office of Personnel Management that exposed 4 million federal workers’ records.

But the move has cracked bipartisan support for one of the few issues that has united Congress this year — cybersecurity.

Democrats that had previously backed CISA are now refusing to support the bill as a defense budget add-on.

The left is threatening to block the attachment, accusing Republicans of trying to avoid a bruising fight over privacy. Several Democrats have vowed to offer privacy-enhancing amendments to the bill, fearing it could shuttle more surveillance data to the National Security Agency (NSA) as written.

“We cannot trifle with Americans’ civil liberties,” the top four Senate Democrats said in a letter sent Wednesday to McConnell, calling his strategy “ridiculous.”

“This is a pure political ploy that does nothing to advance America’s national security,” they said.

The White House has also threatened to veto the defense bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

“We look foolish to the rest of the country, actually the rest of the world, doing it this way,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) told The Hill.

Even CISA’s co-sponsors — Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) — split over the tactic Wednesday, with Feinstein arguing on the Senate floor that the move has imperiled the bipartisan bill.

Burr shot back at Democrats opposing the amendment.

“If they want to vote against a cyber bill that they were for, that they’re only against because of the way we’re doing it, then let them do it,” Burr, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, told The Hill.

Republicans insist the bill must move now.

“Passing a cybersecurity bill is absolutely urgent,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who sits on the Intel panel, told The Hill. “I don’t know how many more breaches we have to observe before realizing that it is irresponsible not for us to pass a bill and make it a priority.”

The GOP is pointing the finger at Democrats for stymying action on something they claim is imperative to improving national security.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, told The Hill, “In a perfect world I’d love to have them have amendments.”

“Problem is they’ll make us go through all these hoops of getting a bill out by itself,” he said.

Tags Dianne Feinstein John McCain Patrick Leahy Richard Burr Susan Collins

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