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Turf War Erupts Over the Path of Cybersecurity Bill

Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs ranking member Susan Collins (R-Maine) helped to create working groups to allow Senators to influence the substance of the cybersecurity bill.

What should be a consensus effort on a Senate bill to strengthen U.S. cybersecurity is in danger of devolving into partisan turf war.

With the support of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), seven ranking members of key committees are moving to delay an upcoming debate on a comprehensive cybersecurity bill. These Republicans, while expressing concerns about the substance of the bill, argue that the legislation should have been crafted under “regular order” and should have been considered by several committees of jurisdiction.

Instead of pushing it through a spate of committees, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and a bipartisan duo — Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs ranking member Susan Collins (R-Maine) — created working groups to allow Senators to influence the substance of the bill. It is not an uncommon practice on major legislation. Democrats contend that the Republican protests at the end of a two-year legislative process are mystifying; Democratic aides claim they are purely political.

“Process? I mean all we did was reach out. We started this three years ago,” Rockefeller told Roll Call late last week. “We’ve reached out to all the Senate offices, corporate America, [had] hundreds of meetings, and I think that’s the reason you’re going to see it pass.”

“The bill’s clearly been vetted enough,” Collins added during a brief interview.

Reid confirmed before the recess that he plans to bring the bill to the floor at some point after the Senate reconvenes next week.

But seven Republicans signed a letter to the Majority Leader requesting more committee input and time to debate the legislation. The letter was signed by Armed Services ranking member John McCain (Ariz.); Budget ranking member Jeff Sessions (Ala.); Commerce ranking member Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas); Energy and Natural Resources ranking member Lisa Murkowski (Alaska); Health, Education, Labor and Pensions ranking member Mike Enzi (Wyo.); Judiciary ranking member Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and Intelligence ranking member Saxby Chambliss (Ga.).

In a statement issued after the release of the letter, McConnell accused the Majority Leader of rushing a flawed bill to the floor and pulling the plug on the working groups before the process achieved the intended results. Just as the seven Senators requested in their letter, McConnell urged Reid to reroute the bill back to the committees of jurisdiction for formal markups.

“Unfortunately, the Majority Leader announced late last year that he would put a bill on the floor regardless of the outcome of the working groups that were intended to address the numerous issues associated with this subject and bring to bear the expertise of the various committees of jurisdiction,” McConnell said.

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