Cybersecurity compromise still uncertain

With the August recess nearly three weeks away, it will be difficult for the Senate to move forward on cybersecurity legislation—but don’t count it out just yet.

Some are holding out for progress to be made on a compromise framework drafted by Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDemocratic senators call on domestic airlines to issue cash refunds for travelers Overnight Energy: Coronavirus package punts on environmental fights | Court sides with tribes in Dakota Access Pipeline case | Trump officials walk away from ethanol court fight Coronavirus package punts on environmental fights MORE (D-RI) on provisions dealing with critical infrastructure, such as water systems and telecommunications networks. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce met with Kyl and his staff this past week to discuss the latest version of the framework.

A spokesman for the Chamber said the business lobby had a “constructive dialogue” with Kyl at the meeting and declined to comment further. 

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The Chamber may not be saying much, but some see that as a good thing. The business lobby opposed an earlier draft of the compromise proposal circulated last month, but so far has not spoken out against the latest version of the framework.

“We can keep talking,” a Senate aide said. “In that regard, it’s a victory for now.”

But there’s still a tough road ahead. Industry groups have said privately that they’re hesitant to back the compromise proposal without seeing it written in legislative language first.

The framework aims to encourage companies operating the nation’s critical infrastructure to better secure its computer systems and networks by offering incentives--such as liability protections or access to government intelligence--in exchange for meeting a set of “performance goals” or security standards.

Industry groups, including the Chamber, have criticized Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (I-Conn.) cybersecurity bill because it contains a measure that mandates critical infrastructure operators to meet security standards. Business groups have favored a rival bill by Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainDemocratic super PAC targets McSally over coronavirus response GOP senator suspending campaign fundraising, donating paycheck amid coronavirus pandemic Biden's pick for vice president doesn't matter much MORE (R-Ariz.) that does not include mandates for critical infrastructure and focuses on improving information sharing about cyber threats between industry and government instead.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Barbara MikulskiBarbara Ann MikulskiLobbying World Only four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Raskin embraces role as constitutional scholar MORE (D-Md.), Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsSenate includes 0M for mail-in voting in coronavirus spending deal Hillicon Valley: Facebook reports huge spike in usage during pandemic | Democrats push for mail-in voting funds in coronavirus stimulus | Trump delays deadline to acquire REAL ID Democrats press for more stimulus funding to boost mail-in voting MORE (D-Del.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham asks colleagues to support call for China to close wet markets Justice IG pours fuel on looming fight over FISA court Trump says he's considering restricting travel to coronavirus 'hot spots' MORE (R-S.C.), Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP senators begin informal talks on new coronavirus stimulus Five things being discussed for a new coronavirus relief bill Hillicon Valley: Apple rolls out coronavirus screening app, website | Pompeo urged to crack down on coronavirus misinformation from China | Senators push FTC on price gouging | Instacart workers threaten strike MORE (R-Miss.) and Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsWe weren't ready for a pandemic — imagine a crippling cyberattack GOP presses for swift Ratcliffe confirmation to intel post Experts report recent increase in Chinese group's cyberattacks MORE (R-Ind.) are said to have been involved in the compromise effort.

Coats is a co-sponsor of McCain’s Secure IT Act. A spokeswoman for Coats said he has not signed onto any other language than McCain’s bill but “is willing to discuss with any of his colleagues efforts to improve cyber security in a way that does not jeopardize private sector flexibility or create costly layers of government bureaucracy.”

Time is another factor not on the Senate’s side. The floor schedule is already full for the next couple weeks with a campaign finance disclosure bill and tax cut extensions on the docket. Any compromise framework also needs to be signed off on by Lieberman, Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGOP senators begin informal talks on new coronavirus stimulus GOP presses for swift Ratcliffe confirmation to intel post Campaigns pivot toward health awareness as races sidelined by coronavirus MORE (R-Maine) and the other backers of his bill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidGOP embraces big stimulus after years of decrying it Five Latinas who could be Biden's running mate Winners and losers from Super Tuesday MORE (D-Nev.) has said he plans to tackle cybersecurity this year. A spokesman for Reid said not to count it out and there is a possibility that the upper chamber will get to cybersecurity legislation this month.

Some say tight deadlines may spur the Senate to eke out a deal on Lieberman’s bill.

“The time for it to happen is now,” said one tech lobbyist, “and it probably will.”