Rarely will you find the ACLU and national security experts from the George W. Bush administration on the same side of a political debate. But that’s what happened as Senate leaders worked toward a compromise on cybersecurity legislation, which everyone from the nation’s largest civil liberties group to the U.S. government’s spy chief, NSA head Gen. Keith Alexander, ended up supporting.
OK, not everyone. The Cybersecurity Act, co-sponsored by Republican Susan Collins and independent Joe Lieberman, was blocked Thursday by a GOP filibuster. A cloture vote, which requires 60 “ayes,” failed 52-46.
The bill would have established a set of optional network security standards for companies involved in providing critical infrastructure, such as electricity and water. Those that complied would have been exempted from lawsuits.
An earlier cybersecurity bill, dubbed CISPA, focused on information-sharing between private businesses and law enforcement. It drew cries mainly from the left, and I argued in Slate that it needed changes to prevent abuse.
Just when the Cybersecurity Act addressed most of those issues, Republicans turned against it. The Senate bill had broad support from Democrats and moderates such as Lieberman and Collins (though it was still too much for hardcore liberal privacy advocate Ron Wyden of Oregon). But it was torpedoed by opposition from a group of Republicans led by John McCain and backed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. They argued the bill would impose excessive regulation on private enterprise. Thus the filibuster.
That's politics. Interestingly, though, that wasn’t how the Senate’s Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, framed the issue. Republicans weren’t trying to filibuster the bill, according to his statement—they were trying to improve it with a few additional amendments, and the mean old Democrats refused to even consider these amendments.
So what were those amendments? Well, there were more than 70 in all. Some were relevant to the bill—others, less so. Among the Republican proposals was one from Utah Republican Mike Lee to ban abortions in the District of Columbia for women after their first 20 weeks of pregnancy. And then there was this innovative and thoughtful cybersecurity idea, suggested as an amendment by McConnell himself: Repeal Obamacare.