Senate Punts on Cybersecurity Bill

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell withdrew the cyberinformation-sharing bill from consideration, leaving the Senate to take it up again in September.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell talks with reporters after a weekly Senate Republican policy luncheon on August 4, 2015. (National Journal)

Senators are heading home for the August recess without voting on the cybersecurity bill.

Lawmakers worked for days on an agreement about which amendments to include on the cyber bill, but Senate leaders pulled the plug at the last minute on a vote scheduled first for 10:30 a.m, then for 2 p.m. Then they decided to skip town.

Under the deal senators struck Wednesday afternoon, the cyber bill will come up again in September after recess, and 21 Democratic and Republican amendments will receive votes.

The bill — put forward by the top members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sens. Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein — would offer incentives to the private sector to share information about cyberthreats with the government.

Supporters, including senators from both parties and many in the private sector, say the information sharing legislation would make for stronger cyberdefenses against hackers. But privacy advocates in and out of the Senate have raised flags about the bill's treatment of Americans' sensitive information, saying it will violate personal privacy, and security experts have questioned the bill's effectiveness.

Several Republican senators said Wednesday that negotiators discussed timing for both the cyber bill and the Iran deal, which will be the first topic that the Senate takes up when it returns from the August recess.

When the cyber bill does come up, 21 amendments — 10 GOP and 11 Democratic — will also get a vote.

Democrats weren't happy that nothing got done over the last week.

"We've spent now, on two different bills, what, how many weeks debating abortion? We've got to debate some real things like cybersecurity, and have real amendments, not pretend amendments," said Sen. Patrick Leahy Wednesday morning.

Senators from both sides of the aisle have called for changes to the Cyber Information Sharing Act and have put forward dozens of proposals. The amendments included offerings from the Senate's privacy advocates — Democrats Leahy and Ron Wyden, and Republicans Rand Paul and Mike Lee — as well as efforts to increase the cybersecurity of federal agencies from Sens. Mark Warner and Ron Johnson.

But not all the proposed amendments were on-topic. Paul proposed three changes that have nothing to do with cybersecurity: one to allow the government to audit the fed, another about immigration policy, and a third that would allow servicemen and servicewomen to carry weapons onto military bases.

Paul's unrelated amendments were among the bigger hurdles that the Republican caucus had to deal with in reaching an agreement amongst themselves, a GOP Senate aide said Wednesday.

Earlier Wednesday, Feinstein spoke on the Senate floor about more than a dozen "privacy-information improvements" she and Burr made to the bill, recited a list of cyberattacks that affected millions of Americans in the past year, and named some of the bill's supporters in the private sector. "I make these remarks in hopes that it can clear the air somewhat and when a cloture vote does come at 2 o'clock, that we have the votes to proceed," Feinstein said.

The Senate got a late start on the cyber bill this week in part because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell prioritized a vote on defunding Planned Parenthood. After senators voted not to move forward on that measure, McConnell filed cloture on CISA. The earliest the Senate was allowed to vote to move forward on CISA was Wednesday morning.

Sarah Mimms and Alex Rogers contributed to this article