House passes info sharing bill, ball in Senate court
The House passed cybersecurity legislation Thursday — for the second Congress in a row sending the Senate a clear message: Your move.
The difference? House GOP leadership can’t blame Democrats if the bill stalls again.
Instead, this go around will be the first attempt in three Congresses to pass major cybersecurity legislation with Republican leadership in the Senate as well as the House.
House Republican leaders have been taking a victory lap on the bills all week, even before their ultimate passage Wednesday and Thursday. Both House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) put out statements praising their body for bringing bipartisan cyberthreat information sharing legislation to the floor, both iterations of the bill passing by wide margins.
“Republicans have led efforts to bolster America’s cybersecurity while protecting citizens’ privacy,” Boehner wrote at the start of the week, referring to House cyber efforts dating back to when he took the gavel in 2011. “Unfortunately, Senate Democrats did nothing,” he added.
But despite pledges from Senate leaders, the timeline for bringing information sharing to the upper chamber continues to slip.
When the Senate bill, CISA, advanced from the Senate Intelligence Committee in March (before any House bills were marked up), Chairman Richard Burr said the goal was to have the bill on the floor after the Easter/Passover recess in mid-April. Now, insiders say the best case scenario for cyber is likely to be May.
“I think it’s one of those things where we probably will take up in the near future,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) told POLITICO. “We [confirmed Attorney General-designate Loretta] Lynch today, we’ll do Iran and we’ll do probably trade, and I would think [cyber]’s probably one of the candidates for being next in line.”
Senate leaders insist the issue will still be top of mind. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) predicted the Senate will take up the Intelligence Committee’s bill before Memorial Day, when Congress next takes a recess.
“We have a few things to do first. I think [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell wants to do it this work period and so do I,” Reid said, regarding information sharing. “We’re committed to doing [a bill].”
The House Intelligence Committee and House Homeland Security Committee each drafted versions of cyberthreat information sharing bills that sailed through the body this week, 307-116 and 355-63, respectively. The debate was almost entirely laudatory and the limited amendments allowed for consideration sped through mostly on voice votes.
The vote total was even stronger than the April 2013 vote on the bills’ predecessor, CISPA, which passed 288-127 before the Edward Snowden revelations vaulted surveillance into Americans’ consciousness.
Democrats in the House were eager to point out that if this bill doesn’t succeed, no one can blame their party’s leadership in the Senate.
“When the shoe’s on the other foot, it’s an opportunity for those people who have been critical to demonstrate leadership,” said House Homeland Security ranking member Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) “This is an opportunity for Republican leadership in the Senate to take care of business, and if not, then it would be a failure on their part to do so.”
“I don’t think that problem was with the Democratic Senate in the last session, I think the problem was there were still significant privacy issues that had yet to be resolved, but we have largely resolved them,” said Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who voted against CISPA in 2013 but developed and strongly supported his committee’s bill. “I think we’re looking at a very likely passage and … I’m optimistic we’ll get to the goal line this year.”
But the calendar in the Senate is not information sharing’s friend. Lawmakers have to finish up a bill on the Iran nuclear deal, giving the president fast-track trade authority, reach a deal on the budget with the House, and then there are deadlines fast approaching like transportation policy authorization and perhaps the biggest wild card for information sharing: the sunset of the U.S.’s surveillance authorities at the end of May.
And the most determined opponent of the Senate information sharing bill, written by the Intelligence Committee, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), pledged today that he would not let the bill sail through the upper chamber as easily as it did on the other side of the Capitol.
“When this bill comes to the floor of the U.S. Senate, this is going to be a robust debate,” Wyden pledged Thursday morning at an event put on by the Computer and Communications Industry Association. “And it is going to take a fair amount of time, this is not, on my watch, going to be a bill that flies through the United States Senate lickety-split.”
Wyden has major concerns with the privacy protections in the bill, which he calls a surveillance bill by another name. He said those reservations have only gotten stronger since he was the sole no vote on the Senate Intelligence Committee’s markup of CISA.
The PATRIOT Act and its surveillance authorities will expire June 1, already setting up a debate in Congress over surveillance. On Tuesday, McConnell introduced a bill to reauthorize the controversial act with no changes — angering privacy advocates and moderates who wanted a healthy debate over the provisions. That could help bring supporters on both sides of the aisle to Wyden’s cause, he acknowledged to POLITICO later Thursday.
“Given the fact that we came within three votes of major reform [last year], for the Senate Republican leadership to now say we’ll go backward and defend domestic surveillance as a simple reauthorization would do, that’s pretty jarring stuff,” Wyden said.
Already in the House, some Republicans joined Democrats’ concerns over the bill. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) took to the floor during Democrats’ time to debate the rule on the bills on Wednesday as one of only a handful of lawmakers who got to speak out against the bill.
On Thursday, he said it’s not surprising both support and opposition for the bill is bipartisan.
“The collection of data, your personal information, and the potential misuse by your government cross party lines.,” Issa aid. “Some Democrats are willing to give up your privacy for security, some Republicans are willing to give up your privacy for security. … I’m hoping that the Senate will begin erring more toward protecting the American people’s privacy in a cyber-world and not simply assume that because we cannot stop cyberattacks, there is no privacy.”
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) said lawmakers intentionally moved cybersecurity quickly to the floor to avoid a surveillance proxy fight.
“The plan was we were going to do these on separate tracks, which is why we’re doing this now; [surveillance reform] comes later,” McCaul said. “I think we successfully persuaded the members that this [information sharing bill] is not a surveillance bill.”
And if the Senate doesn’t pass it, House Republicans can’t blame Democrats, he acknowledged.
“Then the Senate as an institution [will be] to blame, because it doesn’t work very quickly,” McCaul said. “I certainly hope they would at least pass our House Intel and Homeland Security bills, pass it through the Senate and send it to the White House, because I have assurances the White House will sign those into law.”
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