Obama is considering an Executive Order for his Cybersecurity Act that was voted down by both Republicans and Democrats. The bill mustered 52 votes in the Democrat lead Senate, well short of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster.
The White House hasn’t ruled out issuing an executive order to strengthen the nation’s defenses against cyber attacks if Congress refuses to act.
“In the wake of Congressional inaction and Republican stall tactics, unfortunately, we will continue to be hamstrung by outdated and inadequate statutory authorities that the legislation would have fixed,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in an emailed response to whether the president is considering a cybersecurity order. “Moving forward, the President is determined to do absolutely everything we can to better protect our nation against today’s cyber threats and we will do that,” Carney said.
The White House has emphasized that better protecting vital computer systems is a top priority. The bill would have encouraged private companies and the government to share information about cyber threats and would have required critical infrastructure operators to meet minimum cybersecurity standards.
Senate Republicans, led by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), worried the bill would burden businesses with unnecessary and ineffective regulations.
Jim Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, explained that Obama could enact many of the core provisions of the Cybersecurity Act through executive order.
Many companies managing vital computer systems are already heavily regulated. Lewis said the president could order agencies to require the industries they regulate to meet cybersecurity standards.
“You don’t need new legislative authority to do that,” Lewis said.
He noted that some regulatory agencies, including the Federal Communications Commission and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, are independent and not bound to follow executive orders.
An executive order may accomplish many of the goals of the Cybersecurity Act, but it could also further raise the ire of Republicans and the business groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who lobbied against the legislation.
Although Sen. Collins was frustrated by the defeat of her bill, she reacted coolly to the idea of the president bypassing Congress.
“I’m not for doing by executive order what should be done by legislation,” she said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), one of the main co-sponsors of the Cybersecurity Act, said she prefers that Congress address the problem, but she is open to presidential action if Congress fails. “I suppose if we can’t, the answer would be yes,” she said when asked whether she would support an executive order.