Senate again punts on cybersecurity legislation

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Story highlights

  • The bill passed the Senate Intelligence Committee in March, but has languished since
  • The measure is likely to stall again in September

Washington (CNN)The Senate on Wednesday confirmed suspicions that it would once again delay action on a long-stalled cybersecurity bill, putting any progress on the measure off until after August recess and possibly far beyond.

After taking steps to tee up a series of procedural votes on the bill that could have kept the Senate in session through the weekend, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell withdrew the bill from immediate consideration on the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon.
McConnell had faced opposition from both parties on a deal to pass the bill in time to allow senators to recess as expected on Thursday, in time for the Republican presidential debate that will feature four current senators that night. Without unanimous agreement, the proceedings would have taken days, and fears that McConnell would hold lawmakers for weekend work did not come to pass.
    The bill, the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, passed the Senate Intelligence Committee with one opposing vote in March, but has languished since then as more headline-grabbing bills have jumped it in the queue.
    The Senate also false-started on the bill in June, when McConnell tried to attach the bill as an amendment to a must-pass defense authorization, but Democrats including bill author Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, revolted and prevented the move over the inability to offer amendments to the underlying bill under that tactic.
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    The legislation would provide companies certain protections, including immunity from lawsuits, if they share information on cybersecurity threats with each other and with the government. Many cyberattacks replicate the same tactics across a number of companies, but businesses complain they cannot share key indicators of the attacks with each other for fear of legal retribution. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been a major supporter of the bill.
    The House passed corresponding pieces of legislation in April, and leaders have criticized the Senate for dragging its feet. The White House has also called for legislation to move through the Senate, so negotiations can continue among both chambers and the bill could eventually become law.
    On Wednesday afternoon, McConnell announced an agreement to move forward with the bill at a to-be-determined future date with a select collection of amendments offered by both sides of the aisle.
    But the measure is likely to stall again in September because the first item of business will be the debate on the deal with Iran over its nuclear ambitions being pushed by President Barack Obama.
    The Senate could turn to cybersecurity after Iran, but Congress still has to reach a deal to fund the government and avoid a shutdown, and precious few legislative days remain in the fall with extended holiday recesses.
    Delaying action once again is a victory for opponents of the bill, who largely object to it on concerns about Americans' privacy and claims that the bill could expand government surveillance.