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Harry Reid Says He Will Revisit Cybersecurity Legislation in Lame Duck

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Saturday said he would take one more shot at bringing cybersecurity legislation to the floor when the Senate returns for the lame-duck session.

The Nevada Democrat issued a statement Saturday in response to a Thursday night speech by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warning of the urgent need to prepare for threats to infrastructure from cyberspace-based attacks. Reid attempted to bring a cybersecurity overhaul package to the floor earlier this year, only to be thwarted by key Republicans who objected both to policies included in the legislation and the process surrounding how it was written.

“Some of my colleagues have suggested that the president should delay further action to protect America from this threat until Congress can pass legislation. Secretary Panetta has made clear that inaction is not an option,” Reid said in response. “I will bring cybersecurity legislation back to the Senate floor when Congress returns in November. My colleagues who profess to understand the urgency of the threat will have one more chance to back their words with action, and work with us to pass this bill.”

Reid was pointing to a number of Republicans who have expressed concern about the possibility that President Barack Obama will use an executive order to attempt to bypass Congress to implement some cybersecurity threat response capabilities that could impose burdens on business.

Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas) and Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) highlighted those concerns in an opinion piece published last month by the Wall Street Journal.

A group of Senators within the Democratic caucus, led by Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), worked with Maine Republican Susan Collins to draft one plan, while other GOP ranking members led by McCain drafted an alternative. The Democratic plan could not get the votes needed to overcome a filibuster to bring it to the floor.

Republicans argue that an executive order cannot provide proper response capabilities.

“Because these protections require changes to existing law, the most basic cybersecurity needs cannot be accomplished by executive order alone,” McCain, Hutchison and Chambliss wrote. “There’s another downside to an executive order. Unilateral action in the form of government mandates on the private sector creates an adversarial relationship instead of a cooperative one.”

While he called for GOP support to bring a bill to the floor during the lame duck, Reid did not rule out other administrative action, saying he thinks “President Obama is right to examine all means at his disposal for confronting this urgent national security threat.”

Lieberman expressed his support for an executive order in a Sept. 24 letter. “I urge you to use your executive authority to the maximum extent possible to defend the nation from cyber attack,” he wrote.

Thursday night in New York City, Panetta told the Business Executives for National Security that additional power is needed to prevent damage from an attack on cyber-infrastructure, even if identified in advance. He pushed for the cybersecurity overhaul package supported by Reid.

“This legislation has bipartisan support, but is victim to legislative and political gridlock like so much else in Washington.  That frankly is unacceptable and it should be unacceptable not just to me, but to you and to anyone concerned with safeguarding our national security, Panetta said. “While we wait for Congress to act, the administration is looking to enhance cybersecurity measures under existing authorities, by working with the private sector to promote best practices, increase information sharing.”

Correction: Oct. 14, 2012

An earlier version of this story misstated the day that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta spoke to the Business Executives for National Security. It was Thursday.

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