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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.

Led by McCain, the concerned Republicans are poised to unveil an alternative cybersecurity bill. The Arizona Republican explained while testifying Thursday at a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing on the existing legislation that his problems with the current bill are both substantive and process-related.

The bill aims to protect — through regulation and oversight of critical industries — the federal government; private companies and infrastructure, such as a region’s water supply or the financial markets, from being disrupted by computer hackers working on their own or at the behest of hostile governments or other entities.

But Republicans are not satisfied that the potential for negative “unintended consequences” has been adequately addressed.

Yet, in conversations with Republicans, it appeared clear that dissatisfaction with the process was driving their opposition. In particular, they expressed fears that Reid would not allow extensive floor debate and would block them from proposing amendments to the bill, a tactic referred to as “filling the tree.” In fact, Grassley said his concern that Reid would “fill the tree” was a major force behind his demand for regular order.

A Senate Democratic aide said that such worries are unfounded, noting that Reid has previously committed to “an open and fair amendment process,” adding that the Majority Leader “has no intention” of shutting off debate. “He wants to have as open a debate about the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 as Republicans will allow for,” the aide said.

Additionally, this aide reminded, Reid assured the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in a letter sent to the business advocacy group earlier this month that “it is essential that we have a thorough and open debate on the Senate floor, including consideration of amendments to perfect the legislation.”

Murkowski indicated that she and her colleagues who sent the letter to Reid did so because they believe their policy concerns are being ignored.

The Alaska Republican said that the working group process managed by Reid, Rockefeller and Collins failed to sufficiently consider all of the proposals offered by Members and also disregarded work completed in the relevant committees, including in Energy and Natural Resources.  

“What we didn’t do was try to come together to really try and meld this into a product that I think is going to be good for the country as a whole,” Murkowski said. “It is important to recognize that the ranking members have come together, spent a lot of time trying to figure out how we address the very real, very legitimate concerns of cybersecurity.”

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