(Reuters) - The Senate will take up cybersecurity legislation next year to fight online fraud, espionage and intellectual property theft whether or not Republicans and Democrats reach agreement on a comprehensive bill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wrote on Wednesday.
In a letter to Republican leader Mitch McConnell, Reid said that lawmakers have been working on various bills for two years and on a comprehensive bill for six months. Meanwhile, the U.S. government and businesses regularly see their cyber defenses breached and losses mount.
“Given the magnitude of the threat and the gaps in the government’s ability to respond, we cannot afford to delay action on this critical legislation. For that reason, it is my intent to bring comprehensive cybersecurity legislation to the Senate floor for consideration for the first senate work period next year,” Reid wrote to McConnell.
Some Democrats were frustrated by a lack of progress in drafting a bill, but are now optimistic about the chances of bipartisan legislation.
“I believe the cyber threat to be of such urgency that we must act whether or not such agreement can be reached,” he wrote.
A cyber task force in the U.S. House of Representatives, which is dominated by Republicans, issued a report in October also urging legislation.
Their recommendations were similar to ideas being considered by Democrats. For example, the Republican task force said that regulation may be warranted to protect critical infrastructure like power and water plants.
Reid’s office has been overseeing the drafting of a comprehensive cybersecurity bill, but progress has been slow.
U.S. lawmakers have considered several cybersecurity bills in recent years, but failed to pass any despite a growing sense of urgency following high profile hacks of Google (GOOG.O), Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N), the Pentagon’s No. 1 supplier, Citigroup (C.N), the International Monetary Fund and others.
Among the many obstacles to cyber legislation are overlapping jurisdictions in Congress and disagreement over how big a role government should play in regulating and protecting private networks.
The Ponemon Institute said in an August report that cyber attacks cost U.S. and multinational organizations $1.5 million to $36.5 million per year for each of the 50 companies surveyed.
Reporting by Diane Bartz