Cybersecurity bill falls short in Senate, again

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Lack of action sets stage for an executive order implementing new policies.

Once again the Senate failed to advance sweeping cybersecurity legislation on Wednesday, setting the stage for a White House executive order aimed at protecting American computer networks from attack.

The Senate failed to invoke cloture on the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 with a vote of 51-47, short of the 60 votes needed to advance the measure. A similar motion also failed in the Senate before the August recess.

“Cybersecurity is dead for this congress,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said after the vote.

Democrats and Republicans failed to find agreement on a finite list of amendments. Reid has accused the GOP of not taking cybersecurity seriously by trying to inject health care and abortion into the debate. Republicans, meanwhile, say Reid is trying to steamroll over critics.

“If we fail to pass legislation [President Obama] will issue an executive order that will do as much as it has authority to do to prevent a cybersecurity attack,” Senate Homeland Security Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., one of the bill’s top sponsors, warned his colleagues. 

The Cybersecurity Act would establish a system of voluntary security standards for certain critical businesses like those that control electric grids or water treatment plants. Less controversial provisions would also encourage businesses and government to share cyberthreat information, boost programs to educate and train cybersecurity professionals, and update federal network-security policies.

Republican and industry detractors like U.S. Chamber of Commerce, however, say that the government should have little—if any—role in setting standards for private companies. Other critics contend that the Homeland Security Department couldn’t handle an increased role in cybersecurity matters.