US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid urged Republican leaders to resume work on a massive cybersecurity bill aimed at combating breaches and theft from US companies and government networks, and Republicans agreed.
Reid, a Democrat, said in a letter to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell that the staffers for seven committees drafting the bill had not even met to discuss it for weeks.
“Unfortunately, two months have elapsed without any further work on cyber legislation following your request that working groups not proceed until your staff agree to them,” wrote Reid in the letter, Reuters reports.
“We cannot afford to wait to address this serious and persistent threat to our national security; our economy suffers further damage from cyber attacks each day we wait.”
McConnell spokesman Michael Brumas said Republicans would join the drafting process.
“After consulting with Republican ranking members and hearing their views, Senator McConnell and his members have agreed to participate in the working groups,” said Brumas in an emailed comment.
“The leader and ranking members hope the process will produce bipartisan legislation but they will each reserve judgment until a final bill is drafted.”
Lawmakers have considered several cybersecurity bills in recent years, but failed to pass any despite a growing sense of urgency following hacking attacks on Google Inc (GOOG.O); Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N), the Pentagon’s No. 1 supplier; Citigroup (C.N); the International Monetary Fund and a multitude of others.
The U.S. Congress has spent much of the recent months in bitter battles over how best to reduce budget deficits and avoid default on the national debt. But, privately, Democrats have complained of a lack of progress in drafting the cybersecurity bill and blame Republican foot-dragging.
The bill, as partially drafted, would allow the president to declare an emergency if there is a serious cyberattack although his powers are not specifically spelled out. There is disagreement over whether the government could order companies disconnected from the Internet in the case of a crisis.
The draft also discusses how certain key industries — power companies are a prime example — might be declared “critical infrastructure” and required to take specified actions to protect themselves. It puts the Department of Homeland Security in charge of securing government websites.
At least two cyber bills are being written in the U.S. House of Representatives.