Senate cybersecurity legislation has failed to get Senate consideration before Congress heads out off for its August recess, dimming prospects for action in the current Congress.
"This one of those days when I fear for our country and am not proud of the U.S. Senate," said chief bill backer Sen. Joe Lieberman (Ind-Conn.).
The Senate voted 52 to 46, not to invoke cloture and proceed to a vote on S. 3414, the Cybersecurity Act of 2012. That was a procedural move by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in recognition of the inability of bill backers, mostly Democrats, and opponents, mostly Republicans, to agree on a path forward on the bill, which would have meant limiting amendments to only those germane to the underlying bill.
There remained non-germane amendments from both sides of the aisle, said Lieberman, who opined that both sides could not have saved them for another day and agreed to some form of compromise legislation.
That impasse was signaled Tuesday when Reid called for the cloture vote, citing over 90 amendments, many of which were non-germane and including one Republican amendment to repeal healthcare.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said Thursday the divide continued to be over whether the government or industry know how best to protect themselves from cyber threats.
Lieberman suggested it was a case of the Senate, once again, being unable to put the national interest ahead of partisan divides. He quoted Churchill in equating the failure to come up with some kind of compromise bill, now or soon, with those who ignored the rise of Nazi Germany. "If we don't find a way," he said, "it will be quite simply a colossal abdication of duty to the people of the United States."
Martial imagery abounded, with bill co-sponsor Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.), reading from letters from various generals urging immediate action, and other bill backers saying that cyberattacks were a daily occurrence and a cyber911 could be a case of not if, but when, if the country did not beef up cybersecurity.
Both sides tried to make it clear they were not soft on cybersecurity, but in the end neither could agree on a bill to encourage information sharing and set cybersecurity standards, the latter being a principal sticking point. Republicans did not want the Department of Homeland security involved in authorizing the standards, while bill backers insisted those standards would be completely voluntary.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) made a last pitch for the Republican -- and cable operator -- backed SECURE IT act, which focuses on information sharing. She said that was a bill that could pass the House and head to the president's desk.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he was disappointed the cloture vote had been called, saying he thought they had had the outline of a framework of a bill and were close to an agreement on a list of germane amendments, suggesting it would have been better to delay the vote and continue to negotiate. That was seconded by Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.)
Lieberman said he was willing to continue negotiating.
Bill backers expressed a mixture of frustration and resignation. Despite praise for Collins and Lieberman's efforts from both sides, Collins expressed some frustration that even members of her own party had been critical of changes made to the bill in the interests of getting enough votes for passage. Lieberman also made the point that those changes weakened the bill, but said the point was to get something that would pass.