Senate Leaves Cybersecurity Off Its Post-Holiday Rush

NYT FDJennifer Steinhauer 7/9/2015

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Good Thursday morning from Washington. Congress is making plans to accommodate the pope, two former presidents are meeting while their families squabble, and the Senate has a lengthy to-do list. But that list does not include a cybersecurity bill the Senate deemed crucial only a few weeks ago.

Computer snarls that temporarily shut down the New York Stock Exchange and grounded the United Airlines fleet on Wednesday were a vivid reminder of how reliant Americans are on technology and how jarring such failures can be.

Though they were not attributed to a malicious computer attack, they underscored the continuing demand for cybersecurity legislation now entangled in Congress.

A few weeks ago, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and majority leader, said a major computer network protection bill was so urgently required in light of increased threats that he felt compelled to append it to an unrelated Pentagon bill.

“The need for this smart, bipartisan, transparent measure couldn’t be clearer,” he said as Democrats blocked it. They did so because they believed he had attached the measure to try to trap Democrats into voting for the defense bill, which remains tied up in a budget fight.

But since the impasse on the Senate cybersecurity legislation, there have been no moves to revive it.

On Wednesday, Mr. McConnell said the Senate, which is currently considering a significant shift in education policy, would next move to a bill to renew the soon-to-expire federal highway program.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California and the ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she was frustrated with the delay. “I’m hopeful that we’re going to get it up soon,” she said of the measure. “That’s really up to Senator McConnell. As he would say, we don’t run things around here.”

The Senate legislative cup indeed runneth over. The education bill will take into next week to finish, the highway program requires action by the end of the month, and the Senate intends to deal with the expired charter of the Export-Import Bank. And cybersecurity remains a question mark.