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Rogers Insists Cybersecurity Bill Not Dead Yet

Lawmakers concluded weeks ago that the possibility of passing a cybersecurity bill this session is gone, finished, dead and buried. Except it might not be, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said Friday.

The Michigan Republican said that fiscal cliff negotiations will have Congress working late this year, and that lawmakers could fit in cybersecurity negotiations during that extra time.

“I haven’t given up yet,” Rogers said during a panel discussion at George Washington University. “We’ve still got a couple of weeks.”

If negotiations continue, though, Rogers indicated that House Republicans will be standing strong in their biggest policy dispute with Senate Democrats — whether the government should be given new regulatory powers to oversee network security that supports critical infrastructure.

Rogers is the sponsor of a cybersecurity bill (HR 3523) the House passed in April, which focuses on fostering information sharing on cyber threats between the federal government and the private sector. He and several other leaders were against a Senate proposal (S 3414) that contained information-sharing provisions, but also would have placed the Department of Homeland Security in a coordinating role and given it the power to create voluntary security standards for the most vital digital infrastructure. GOP leaders and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce opposed that language, saying that, in practice, the voluntary standards could harden into mandatory regulations.

Referring to the Senate package as the “big regulatory bill” Friday, Rogers said that representatives from the private sector called the proposal almost unworkable, and said they would be spending their time trying to figure out how to comply with federal standards instead of adapting to emerging threats.

“The clash came when the Senate bought into that they had to have a regulatory framework,” he said.

Rogers’ comments came just a few weeks after the sponsor of the Senate bill, the retiring Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn., gave a farewell address at the university, calling Congress’ failure to move on cybersecurity the greatest disappointment of his career as a legislator.

Another of Friday’s panelists, incoming House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, blamed the Senate for not taking up the House proposals, and said he’s already looking at how to push a bill through in the next session. He said he wants to begin coordinating with the new head of the Senate Homeland Security panel — Democrat Thomas R. Carper of Delaware — early next year to try to come up with some consensus.

“The only way we’re going to get this through and into law is if we’re together,” McCaul said, although he, too, said he would not support new regulation or requirements for information sharing. “We don’t want a forced relationship with industry and the private sector. … That’s going to be a theme going forward.”

McCaul sponsored a bill similar to Rogers’ (HR 2096), which also passed in the spring.

Looming over the cybersecurity negotiations this year has been the possibility that the White House will issue an executive order implementing some key provisions from Lieberman’s bill. Administration officials, along with both opponents and supporters of the Senate bill, agree that such action wouldn’t be a perfect solution, as it would lack some of the liability protections for companies that share threat information, which only legislation can provide. McCaul said, however, that an executive order would be understandable.

“I don’t blame the White House for acting, because Congress failed,” he said.

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