Cybersecurity Bill Faces Time Crunch as Recess Approaches

Unless a deal is struck, amendments could slow the bill's progress and hinder its chances of passing before the end of the week.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks at a news briefing at the Capitol on July 30, 2015. (National Journal)

With the Senate clocking out for the summer at the end of the week, there is precious little time to get skeptical senators on board for a major overhaul of the nation's cybersecurity laws — the final item on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's pre-recess checklist.

Already, privacy advocates have launched a coordinated push to point out what they consider a lack of privacy protections in the bill, which is intended to facilitate cybersecurity coordination between the private sector and the government. Supporters say the law would allow both to build more secure defenses against online intruders.

McConnell's proposed timing raised the ire of key senators, including one of the Senate's most outspoken privacy advocates, Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, who called the timing a "political stunt."

The majority leader has not formally moved to line up the vote to open the debate on the Cyber Information-Sharing Act, or CISA. McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said Friday that the majority leader would try to get consent to move forward on the cybersecurity bill as soon as possible if a Monday evening vote to defund Planned Parenthood failed.

Otherwise, the Senate would take up the cybersecurity bill on Wednesday and finish it as early as Thursday evening, allowing members to leave town for the August recess that night or Friday morning, Stewart said.

Although CISA passed out of the Senate Intelligence Committee nearly unanimously in March, senators from both parties are pushing to add amendments to the bill. Given the tight schedule before recess, that could be a major roadblock to getting the legislation finished without a deal facilitated by leadership.

Sen. Chuck Schumer on Thursday indicated such a deal is in the works. "We will offer Republicans an agreement to a certain number of amendments all relevant to the bill, [Democratic amendments], certain number of Republican [amendments], and move forward on the bill," the New York Democrat told reporters.

The demand for modifications to the bill's language is large and bipartisan, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat, said Thursday.

"Despite the fact that the vote in the committee will be 14 to 1 — I get that — there's going to be tremendous interest in the United States Senate in amendments that will change this legislation," Wyden, who cast the dissenting vote in the intelligence committee in March, said in a call with reporters. "A number of Democrats and a number of Republicans have expressed to me an interest in amending the bill."

Sen. Mark Warner, a Democratic member of the intelligence committee, intends to offer four amendments, an aide to the senator from Virginia said Thursday.

And a bill introduced last week by the top members of the Senate Homeland Security Committee — Chairman Ron Johnson and ranking member Thomas Carper — will also be offered as an amendment to CISA, a Senate aide said Thursday. The measure, which passed out of the committee unanimously Wednesday, would require agencies to hone their cybersecurity practices and accelerate the deployment of Einstein, a cyberdefense system developed by the Homeland Security Department.

Leahy called Thursday for McConnell to allow time for senators to offer amendments. "If the Majority Leader is serious about improving our nation's cybersecurity, he will listen to Senator [Dianne] Feinstein and others who have called for a meaningful amendment process," Leahy said in a statement, referring to the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a CISA cosponsor.

For her part, Feinstein told The Hill she had "mixed feelings" about her bill's last-minute introduction. "I'd obviously like to get it done. We're working with people," she said. "Whether it can get done in a short floor time or not, I don't know."

Even if CISA makes it through the Senate this week, it will need to be aligned with two cyberinformation-sharing proposals in the House. The bills, which originated in different committees, differ from each other on certain points, but they are even more distinct from the bill being considered in the Senate.

Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee and author of one of the House bills, has said the current Senate bill would not survive in the House because of worries about surveillance.

Senators may have a chance to address the House's concerns with their amendments to CISA. Adding a provision about Einstein, the DHS network security program, would bring the Senate bill closer in line with the House offerings, a Senate aide said Thursday, and could make it easier to marry the bills.

But the Einstein addition does little to address privacy concerns, which will likely be the focus of other proposed amendments to CISA. As the Senate works out what will be in its final bill, the House is taking a "wait-and-see" approach, a congressional aide said Thursday.

If CISA fails to move forward before recess begins, it will have to compete with other pressing problems — including what is sure to be a bloody fight over appropriations — for senators' attention once they return in September.

Still, Wyden says keeping CISA from getting a vote this week would be a "temporary win" for privacy advocates. He said the grassroots campaign against the bill, which has so far gotten protesters to send over 6 million faxes to Congress registering their disapproval, will have more of a chance to sink its teeth into members of Congress as they meet with their constituents.

This article has been updated to clarify the bill's timeline this week if consent is reached to move it forward.

Sarah Mimms contributed to this article