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Senate cybersecurity bill fails, so Obama could take charge

The Pentagon wants Congress to pass a cybersecurity bill to safeguard critical assets such as the power grid. But Senate efforts failed, meaning President Obama might issue an executive order.

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Democrats say business interests trumped national security.

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"Sometimes we need to make decisions that the Chamber of Commerce isn’t happy with," Sen. John Rockefeller (D) of West Virginia said in a statement Friday. "Because it’s not the Chamber’s job to worry about national security. That’s the job of our military. And they have been quite clear about what’s needed."

The Pentagon has been clear about the need for action. The most recent warning came from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. In a speech last month, he said “an aggressor nation or extremist group could use these kinds of cyber tools to gain control of critical switches. They could derail passenger trains, or even more dangerous, derail passenger trains loaded with lethal chemicals. They could contaminate the water supply in major cities, or shut down the power grid across large parts of the country.”

For that reason, cybersecurity had appeared one of the more plausible areas of agreement, even within a divided Congress. But Wednesday's 51-to-47 vote, well shy of the 60 votes needed to avoid a GOP filibuster, marked an end to cybersecurity efforts in this session of Congress, said Senator Reid (D) of Nevada.

"The bill that was and is most important to the intelligence community was just killed, and that's cybersecurity," he said after the vote. "Whatever we do for this bill, it's not enough for the US Chamber of Commerce. So everyone should understand cybersecurity is dead for this [session of] Congress. What an unfortunate thing, but that's the way it is."

But Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky said Thursday that there might be another chance for cybersecurity legislation next month.

“My expectation," he said, "is that sometime in December after we have completed floor debate on the defense authorization bill, and then dispose of the intelligence authorization bill, we will then attempt to get an agreement on amendments to the cybersecurity bill.”

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