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Internet Security Bill Could Be Stalled

Chances for passage this week of legislation to strengthen the nation’s response to cyber-attacks were further complicated today as Senate Republican leaders said they will seek to offer an amendment to repeal the health care law.

“I am going to be as patient as I can the next few days and see if there is some agreement that can be reached, but right now there isn’t a lot of hope coming from the Republican side,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said at a press conference today.

“‘It’s a rendezvous with destiny,’” Reid quoted Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) as saying to fellow Democrats at their weekly lunch about the bill. He said she stressed that it is not if a cyber-attack will take place, but when.

“We cannot let this bill die because of partisanship, but that is what is happening,” Reid said.

The amendment discussion is taking place as the bill’s sponsors continue to seek an agreement on the substance of the bill, which has been criticized by business groups.

Reid was critical of Republicans who want to offer an amendment to the cybersecurity bill that would roll back the health care reform law of 2010, the Democrats’ signature legislative achievement last Congress. The Republican-led House has voted more than 30 times on repealing parts or all of the law.

“To show how serious they are on cybersecurity — the most pressing issue facing the security of this nation — the Republican leader … wants a vote on repealing health care,” Reid said.

“I’ve danced this tune before, and it’s always the same tune,” Reid said of the amendment process. “You lead, and let me stand on your foot.”

Reid, who moved to cut off debate this evening, has said that he is open to votes on relevant amendments but indicated that having votes related to health care as part of the cybersecurity debate was not tenable.

Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) traded barbs this morning on the floor over the issue.

Reid added that he finds the Republicans’ effort particularly galling because starting today, in accordance with the law, new health care plans will have to start offering preventive services — including contraception and HIV screening and counseling for sexually active women — without cost-sharing.

“Tomorrow, women in America no longer become second-class citizens,” Reid said. “Tomorrow, women no longer will have a pre-existing disability. Why? Because she’s a woman; and [McConnell] wants a vote to repeal health care.”

McConnell told reporters today that Democrats were already planning to give speeches this week praising the law.

“I don’t know why our friends on the other side would not like to vote on this,” McConnell said. “Apparently, they are spending the week trying to convince the American people that this is a wonderful bill, that they are really proud that they did it, and I suggested at the opening this morning that we should have a vote on it.”

McConnell added, “It doesn’t have to slow the Senate down, we’d be willing to enter into a time agreement to have a very, very short debate; we are all thoroughly familiar with the subject … and let the American people know where we stand on whether it’s a good idea to continue Obamacare.”

Republicans also cast doubt that the bill could be passed before the end of the week when Congress plans to leave for its monthlong summer recess.

“I am not so bold as to predict where [we will] be at the end of the week, but I think there is a widespread agreement that a bill should pass; there may be some differences of opinion about whether it should pass at the end of this week,” McConnell said.

Senate Republican Conference Vice Chairman Roy Blunt (Mo.) said he believes the bill will face difficulties passing this week, but he didn’t rule it out.

“I’d like to see us do something this year, but this week gets increasingly difficult,” Blunt said. “There’s just too much disagreement on too big an issue in all likelihood.”  

Opposition from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has also created a steady headwind against getting commitments from Senators to vote for the measure.

The bill’s sponsors continue to try push for support.

“I am still hopeful” the bill can pass this week, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs ranking member Susan Collins (R-Maine) said. “Behind the scenes we are having a lot of fruitful discussions.”

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