Make-or-break time for cybersecurity bill

It’s make-or-break time for cybersecurity legislation in the Senate. 

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidSenators briefed on US Navy's encounters with UFOs: report Key endorsements: A who's who in early states Trump weighs in on UFOs in Stephanopoulos interview MORE (D-Nev.) will likely move to Sen. Joe Lieberman's (I-Conn.) cybersecurity bill this week once the upper chamber finishes up votes on taxes, an aide said. That could come as early as Wednesday or Thursday, while a procedural vote to move the bill to the floor is expected the following Monday. 

The stakes are high for industry groups and for Lieberman, the bill's lead co-sponsor, who has eyed the measure as a part of his legacy before he retires at the end of this Congress.

ADVERTISEMENT

Lieberman has said a cybersecurity bill would either move to the floor before the August recess or not at all, and has been working on a compromise that he hopes will attract GOP support.   

This past week, Lieberman and the four other co-sponsors of the cybersecurity bill — Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsMaine House speaker announces challenge to Collins Senate seat GOP senators divided over approach to election security GOP lawmakers want Mulvaney sidelined in budget talks MORE (R-Maine), Jay RockefellerJohn (Jay) Davison RockefellerBottom Line World Health Day: It's time to fight preventable disease Lobbying World MORE (D-W.Va.), Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinYoung activists press for change in 2020 election The Hill's Morning Report — US strikes approved against Iran pulled back Democrats want White House hopefuls to cool it on Biden attacks MORE (D-Calif.) and Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperThe '90-10 rule' in higher education is a target on veterans' backs Trump proposal nixes review of long-term climate impacts Democrats want White House hopefuls to cool it on Biden attacks MORE (D-Del.) — introduced a revised version that attempts to soften provisions that would have required companies operating critical infrastructure to meet a set of security standards developed, in part, by the Homeland Security Department.

Republicans senators and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce strongly opposed the earlier infrastructure provisions, arguing they would saddle industry with burdensome regulations and create a bureaucratic nightmare.



A group of GOP senators led by Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainVeterans group to hand out USS John McCain T-shirts for July 4 on the National Mall Will we ever have another veteran as president? Meghan McCain clashes with Joy Behar as the 'sacrificial Republican' on 'The View' MORE (R-Ariz.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and Saxby ChamblissClarence (Saxby) Saxby ChamblissRepublicans say Democrats holding up disaster relief as 'Sandy payback' Ex-House Intel chair: Intel panel is wrong forum to investigate Trump's finances The Hill's Morning Report - Trump budget reignites border security fight MORE (R-Ga.) has introduced a rival bill — the SECURE IT Act — that does not include security mandates and is focused on improving information sharing about cyber threats between industry and the government.


Lieberman’s revised bill would establish a program where critical infrastructure operators would certify that they meet a set of performance standards in exchange for various incentives, such as liability protections. The idea was hatched by a bipartisan working group that was led by Sens. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseSize of 2020 field too big even for Democratic enthusiasts, poll finds Overnight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record Trump's UN pick faces Senate grilling MORE (D-RI) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.).

"We are going to try carrots instead of sticks as we begin to improve our cyber defenses," Lieberman said in a statement. But he said if the voluntary measures don't work, "a future Congress will undoubtedly come back and adopt a more coercive system."

But whether those changes will be enough to get the 60 votes needed to advance most legislation through the Senate is uncertain. So far, Collins is the lone Republican backer of the bill, meaning the co-sponsors need to get at least another six GOP votes to hit 60.

Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP senators divided over approach to election security GOP lawmakers want Mulvaney sidelined in budget talks Trump urged to quickly fill Pentagon post amid Iran tensions MORE (R-S.C.) and Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntThis week: Congress set for clash on Trump's border request GOP senators divided over approach to election security The Hill's Morning Report — US strikes approved against Iran pulled back MORE (R-Mo.) are seen as possible swing votes because of their involvement in the compromise effort with Whitehouse and Kyl. Blunt emphasized that cybersecurity legislation must harden vulnerabilities in critical infrastructure during a colloquy with other members on the Senate floor this past week. 

Others are keeping an eye on Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteKey endorsements: A who's who in early states Sinema, Gallagher fastest lawmakers in charity race New Hampshire senator to ask 2020 Dems to back repeal of state residency law MORE (R-N.H.) as possible pick-ups for Democrats. Ayotte, however, had concerns with the original version of the Lieberman bill and has criticized the process used to draft it. 

Sen. Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsCNN's Jake Tapper repeatedly presses Pence on whether he thinks climate change is a threat Hillicon Valley: Tim Cook visits White House | House hearing grapples with deepfake threat | Bill, Melinda Gates launch lobbying group | Tech turns to K-Street in antitrust fight | Lawsuit poses major threat to T-Mobile, Sprint merger House Intel to take first major deep dive into threat of 'deepfakes' MORE (R-Ind.), a co-sponsor of the SECURE IT Act, was also seen as a possible convert because of his involvement in the Whitehouse-Kyl discussions, but has already expressed concerns with the new bill’s provisions.

“I strongly believe that Congress must pass a cyber security bill this year given the real and dangerous threat of a cyber attack on our country,” said Coats, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, in a statement. “While I am still reviewing the details of the revised Cybersecurity Act offered by Sens. Lieberman and Collins, I remain concerned that some of the provisions move beyond voluntary incentives and subject the private sector to mandatory requirements and burdensome regulations.”

Even if the bill clears the Senate, it has to make it through conference, and many of its provisions have long odds of passing the GOP-controlled House.

House Republican leaders have indicated they will not allow a vote on any cybersecurity bill that they view as creating burdensome regulations.

House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerTed Cruz, AOC have it right on banning former members of Congress from becoming lobbyists Rep. Amash stokes talk of campaign against Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Trump, Biden go toe-to-toe in Iowa MORE (R-Ohio) said in April that the president's support for cybersecurity mandates shows that the "White House believes the government ought to control the Internet, government ought to set standards and government ought to take care of everything that’s needed for cybersecurity."

GOP Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) authored a House bill that would have set mandatory standards for critical infrastructure, but was forced to scale back the requirements in a bid to win over House leaders.

His revised bill would have allowed the Homeland Security Department to help critical infrastructure companies protect their networks, but the system would have been entirely voluntary. But House leaders blocked a floor vote on it.

Despite the challenges, the activity is the closest Congress has come to passing major cybersecurity legislation in recent years. 

"If a major event happens, no one wants to be the one pointed to as having held up legislation," said Jessica Herrera-Flanigan, a partner at Monument Policy Group. 

"There has been a lot of compromise to reach this point, so the Senate is in the closest place it has been this year for passing cybersecurity, though there are obviously still challenges to getting it done."