Last-minute scramble over cybersecurity bill

The House Homeland Security Committee is working to alter the compromise text of a major cybersecurity bill prepared by the House and Senate Intelligence committees, according to multiple people tracking the negotiations.

They say Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) is displeased with the language, but under intense pressure from House leadership to go along with it.

Several people with direct knowledge of the talks say the situation is in flux, with the two sides working around the clock and trading drafts daily.

{mosads}Lawmakers are trying to merge three bills that all aim to encourage businesses to share more data on hackers with the government. The Senate passed its Intelligence Committee-originated bill in October, six months after the House passed two complementary bills — one from Intelligence, another from Homeland Security.

The blessing from McCaul — who co-sponsored his committee’s bill — is thought to be the final step needed to move forward with the finished text.

But several people said McCaul and his staff are unhappy with the language that was presented to them on Friday. The committee is also apparently frustrated at being largely left out of some of the unofficial negotiations ahead of the official conference, according to a number of lobbyists.

Still, House leaders, including Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), are turning the screws on McCaul to publicly go along with the deal, despite the chairman’s private frustration, according to multiple observers.

The disagreement centers on provisions in the compromise text allowing companies to share information directly with a number of government agencies other than the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), possibly including intelligence agencies.

McCaul and his staff been adamant that all private sector sharing should go through the DHS, seen as the agency best capable of scrubbing out sensitive information before data is spread throughout the government.

Privacy advocates have made similar arguments and are irate at what they see as a ploy to ram through a bill favoring the intelligence community under the radar.

While many industry groups, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers and even the White House have insisted the cyber bill is a necessary first step to combating cyberattacks, numerous tech companies, technologists and digital rights groups believe the measure would simply shuttle more personal data on Americans to the National Security Agency (NSA).

These opponents had encouraged lawmakers to include the privacy clauses from McCaul’s bill — viewed as the most palatable from a digital rights perspective — in the final text.

Homeland Security Committee staffers are currently making their case in a series ongoing talks with the Intelligence committees for why some of this language should be retained.

All committees involved met Monday night to discuss everyone’s stance on the final text. The two sides are expected to trade updated offerings on Tuesday.

The House and Senate have still not voted to go to an official conference on the bill, but many people said if McCaul and his committee signs off on the current text, the conference negotiations could be wrapped up by midweek.

If all goes according to plan, the full House would then be able to vote on the final conference report and the Senate could quickly attach it into an expected omnibus budget deal sometime later this week.

That would put the bill on President Obama’s desk before the end of the year, a goal lawmakers have been hoping to accomplish.

But most caution that a lot has to go right for that to be achieved.

— Updated 7:39 p.m.

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