The Washington Post

Cybersecurity bill fails in Senate

A bill that would establish security standards to prevent large-scale cyberattacks on the nation’s critical infrastructure — including water supplies and the electrical grid — failed in the Senate on Thursday despite strong endorsements from top military and national security officials.

Senators voted 52 to 46 in favor of the bill, coming up short of the two-thirds majority necessary to advance it to a final vote. The GOP filibuster further stalls years of bipartisan efforts to establish stricter security standards and, some experts say, could leave the nation vulnerable to widespread hacking or a serious cyberattack.

“This is one of those days when I fear for our country, and I’m not proud of the United States Senate,” Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), one of the bill’s chief sponsors, said before the vote. “We’ve got a crisis, and it’s one that we all acknowledge. It’s not just that there’s a theoretical or speculative threat of cyberattack against our country — it’s real.”

In hopes of moving the bill forward, the White House and Democratic and Republican sponsors of the measure had agreed to weaken the proposal by making stricter security standards voluntary, instead of mandatory, for the large private firms that control most of the nation’s infrastructure.

On Wednesday, Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and John O. Brennan, the White House counterterrorism adviser, voiced support for the measure. President Obama wrote a rare op-ed, in the Wall Street Journal, in favor of the bill, in hopes of garnering enough votes.

But even voluntary standards are strongly opposed by many in the business sector. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which made a big push against the bill, threatened to track how lawmakers voted on the measure in its influential annual assessments.

In a statement, the White House blasted Thursday’s vote. “Despite the president’s repeated calls for Congress to act on this legislation . . . the politics of obstructionism, driven by special interest groups seeking to avoid accountability, prevented Congress from passing legislation to better protect our nation from potentially catastrophic ­cyber-attacks,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

The challenge surrounding cybersecurity is that most of the nation’s vulnerable systems — the computer networks that run the nation’s power, water, transportation and communications — are overseen by the private sector.

Republican critics of the bill argued that any cybersecurity standards — whether mandatory or voluntary — would place a financial strain on private companies. They say government intervention is not necessary on this issue.

The legislation also included a provision that would encourage the sharing of cyberthreat data between government and industry. House lawmakers, who have passed a cyber-information-sharing bill, urged the Senate to follow suit.

“This can’t be the end of the story,” House intelligence committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said of the vote. “The Senate needs to get back to work . . . and pass an information-sharing bill.”

Congress is scheduled to leave Friday for a month-long recess, and supporters could not immediately say when the issue might be brought up again for a vote. Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) voted against the measure, reserving the right as majority leader to reintroduce it at a later date.

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.
Ellen Nakashima is a national security reporter for The Washington Post. She focuses on issues relating to intelligence, technology and civil liberties.



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments

Sign up for email updates from the "Confronting the Caliphate" series.

You have signed up for the "Confronting the Caliphate" series.

Thank you for signing up
You'll receive e-mail when new stories are published in this series.
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
How to make Sean Brock's 'Heritage' cornbread
New limbs for Pakistani soldiers
The signature dish of Charleston, S.C.
Play Videos
Why seasonal allergies make you miserable
John Lewis, 'Marv the Barb' and the politics of barber shops
What you need to know about filming the police
Play Videos
The Post taste tests Pizza Hut's new hot dog pizza
5 tips for using your thermostat
Michael Bolton's cinematic serenade to Detroit
Play Videos
Full disclosure: 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 1 ghoul
Pandas, from birth to milk to mom
The signature drink of New Orleans

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.