Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain ripped into Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid on the Senate floor Monday for prioritizing the Democrat cybersecurity bill ahead of a full defense budget.
The Cybersecurity Act of 2012 — which is Reid’s favored cyber bill — has been delayed in the Senate since its introduction in February. The bill aims to give the Department of Homeland Security the authority to oversee the development of security standards for critical infrastructure networks. Republican opponents have objected to the regulatory regime, as private networks would be placed under by DHS should the bill pass. Opponents have also argued that federal regulation of safety standards will actually create more vulnerabilities — not less.
Democrats, looking to rally last-minute Republican support for the bill before the August recess, released a revised version of the bill last week Thursday. That same day, President Barack Obama — conjuring images of mass disaster should a cyber attack wreak havoc on the nation’s transportation and water systems — penned an oped in The Wall Street Journal in which he urged Congress to support the bill.
The bill’s five sponsors — independent Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, Republican Ranking Member Susan Collins, Democratic Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, Democratic Select Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein, and Democratic Federal Financial Management Subcommittee Chairman Tom Carper — are expected to hold a press conference Tuesday rallying support for the bill.
A media advisory sent out Monday said that press conference participants will explain “the differences between the earlier version of the Cybersecurity Act and the new one – which were made to win Republican votes so Congress can addresses the increasing cyber attacks, or immediate threat of attack, from foreign nations, hacktivists, criminals, and terrorists against the nation’s most critical cyber systems.”
Republicans, however, see the bill as a move by Reid to further delay a vote on the Senate’s defense authorization bill. By prioritizing cybersecurity ahead of the full defense budget, McCain argued that Reid was prioritizing a “subset” of the national defense and neglecting to ensure that “that the men and women of our Armed Forces have the resources and authorities necessary to ensure our national security.”
He also called the cyber bill “flawed” and “controversial,” asking why a bill that has “languished for over five months at the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, with no committee markup or normal committee process, should take precedence over a bill which was vetted over a period of four months by the Senate Armed Services Committee and reported to the floor with the unanimous support of all 26 members.”
McCain emphasized on Monday that the full defense authorization bill also addresses cybersecurity, stating that it “takes great steps to improve our capabilities by consolidating defense networks to improve security and management and allow critical personnel to be reassigned in support of offensive cyber missions, which are presently understaffed.”
“It also provides important policy guidance to the Department of Defense to address the clear need for retaliatory capabilities to serve both as deterrents to, and to respond in the event of, a cyber attack,” McCain said.
McCain also reminded the Senate that if the cyber bill were to pass through the Senate, it would have “zero change of passing in the House or ever being signed into law.”
“When there are less than 27 days of possible legislative session before the election recess, I find it difficult to understand why the majority leader would be willing to tie up the Senate’s time on this flawed bill,” McCain said.