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Cybersecurity bill to make return appearance in Senate

| Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012, 9:52 p.m.

WASHINGTON — A cybersecurity bill backed by President Obama is headed back to the Senate floor after being blocked in August by Senate Republicans who said it would lead to more government regulation.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said on Monday he wants the Senate to vote on the legislation by Thanksgiving. The move was issued as Obama's administration considers going around Congress with an executive order to implement elements of the bill.

“The president of the United States believes the cybersecurity bill is one of the most important things facing this country now — not the next Congress, now,” Reid said on the Senate floor. “We're not going to stall around on this.”

The legislation, introduced in February by Senator Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, would create a system of voluntary cybersecurity standards for companies that operate infrastructure such as power grids and chemical plants considered essential to national security. The bill would encourage companies and the government to share information on cyber threats.

Republicans and the Chamber of Commerce opposed the voluntary standards, saying they would be a back door to government regulation and fail to keep pace with evolving threats in cyberspace.

Reid, calling the chamber “an arm of the Republican Party,” said Republicans have been following the lead of the nation's largest business lobby in opposing the proposal designed to fight the threat of computer attacks.

Lieberman, who leads the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, in an interview gave his bill less than a 50-50 chance of succeeding in the post-election lame-duck session of Congress. Lieberman, who is retiring this year, has urged the president to act if Congress doesn't.

Since the Lieberman-Collins bill stalled in August, administration officials have continued to talk about cyber threats capable of causing widespread harm. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in a speech in New York last month said computer assaults by other countries or extremist groups could be as destructive as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Senate Republicans including John McCain of Arizona and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas have criticized the White House plans for an executive order and urged more limited legislation to encourage cyber threat information-sharing, along the lines of a bill they introduced in March.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives in April passed a similar information-sharing measure, sponsored by Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who leads the House Intelligence Committee, and the panel's top Democrat, C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger of Maryland.

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