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The U.S. Senate has blocked the Cybersecurity Act of 2012. (zdnet.com)
172 points by Empro on Aug 2, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 77 comments

It's weird to see the ACLU and the senate Republicans teaming up to block this against the senate Democrats. Positions on executive power completely switch with the party of the Presidency.

It's weird. I normally am very much more sympathetic to the policy positions of the Democrats (i.e., in terms of gay marriage, taxes, health care, etc.). However, the Democrats have allied themselves far too deeply with Hollywood, and since they are in power, they are obviously carrying water for the FBI and NSA --- which explains the SOPA and Cybersecurity laws. So for those issues, for me it's "Go Republicans!"

I do worry what might happen if long run the Tea Party with its populist message becomes the anti-SOPA, anti-Hollywood, maybe even anti-Wall Street Banks party, and the Democrats feel that they need to get their campaign $$$ from Hollywood and Wall Street.

One of the downsides of a two-party system, I suppose...

There is literally no connection between SOPA and these cybersecurity bills. They are completely different issues which is why you see the constituencies lining up differently.

Tea Party is not populist.

My liberal friends have picked up the idea that the Tea Party is a conservative front organization, "astroturf" designed to fool the media into thinking that right-wing ideas have a popular following. But this narrative is straight-up BS. Dozens of GOP candidates with establishment backing, endorsements, and money have been defeated by Tea Party insurgents in primary races as high up as the senate. It's a bona-fide populist movement that traces its roots to a Ron Paul "Tea Party" moneybomb in 2007. Tea Party activists contributed to the historic landslide in the 2010 elections. And it is still alive and kicking. A GOP insider candidate for the Senate in Texas, endorsed by Rick Perry no less, was defeated by a Tea Partier a few days ago.

There is chaos in the GOP because the people are revolting and not voting like they're told, and it is the tea party that is doing it. Maybe you don't know any Tea Partiers where you live, but they are a true grass-roots force.

Well, except for the fact that they're heavily bankrolled by über-wealthy conservatives (Koch brothers, etc).

The presence of money is a matter of fact of US politics - it can't, on it's own, be used as an argument for or against any particular movement being legitimate or not.

You might not be disagreeing. tytso appears to be using populist in the European sense of "demagogue" or "pandering to the uninformed masses," not the neutral or positive sense of "for the people" that it has in American English.

See: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4133970

Oh, that is an interesting distinction. In the American newsmedia, "Populist" is definitely used to describe wealth-redistribution / pro-nationalization of resources, a la Evo Morales.

It's a little more complicated than that. The original movement was plodded and pushed by astroturfers but most people would agree that it developed into a bona fide grassroots movement.

In the sense that populism can be defined as concerned with the interests of the great masses obviously it's always failed that test.

I think it's wrong to see the Republicans as being on the citizenry's/the ACLU's "side" in this.

Every indication is that this is just their standard-for-the-session move to filibuster anything they can as part of their election strategy.

This is correct. If you take McConnell at his word, then the objection on their side was in the process alone, not the content:

The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said that “no one doubts the need to strengthen our cyberdefenses.”

“We all recognize the problem, that’s really not the issue here,” Mr. McConnell said. “It’s the matter that the majority leader has tried to steamroll a bill,” he said referring to Senator Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada.


I would hasten to categorize this as a Republican thing. Both parties filibuster to try and create opportunity to chastise the other party during election time.

It makes me sad to think all of the third party people can't get their stuff together and give us an alternative to the two party system we currently have.

"It makes me sad to think all of the third party people can't get their stuff together and give us an alternative to the two party system we currently have."

It hard. Because our (the US) system is *really designed for 2 parties. Granted, it sure didn't start out that way. But it's morphed into that.

Both parties protect their ground. And both parties use the courts (and local governments) to make it VERY hard for any 3rd party to gain ground.

Yes they do. It's a sobering truth to reflect on.

Yay gridlock!

Interesting how one week it's a bug, the next week it's a feature.

I believe the US government was designed that way on purpose.

An efficient government can be a scary thing.

You are correct. Madison specifically put in circuit breakers to prevent the mob swinging wildly one way one month, then wildly another way the next.

To the degree that politicians have circumvented these circuit breakers, we're turning the system more into a winner-takes-all soundbite/24-hour-news-cycle fight.

It's a feature. My (subtle?) point was that when gridlock comes up most people have no idea what they're talking about. Usually "gridlock" just means "my guys are being thwarted by the other guys! That sucks!"

This is revisionist nonsense. There are certain things that supermajorities are required for but the regular business of the Senate was never intended to be part of that. The current reliance on supermajorities is beyond unprecedented in US history and gets worse every decade.



What did James Madison and Hamilton actually think of Polish Diet style supermajorities?

Matt Yglesias directs us to Federalist 17 (Madison with Hamilton):


Ezra Klein directs us to Federalist 75 (Hamilton):


Perhaps you are correct, but the Senate was also originally designed to represent the interests of the states, and was not directly elected until the passage of the 17th Amendment in 1913. The original design would have acted as a brake on popular impulses.

Article 1 Section 5

Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings...

There are no footnotes in the constitution.

I'm not sure what your point is, I've not claimed footnotes to the Constitution. We do have this thing called the Congressional Record and it's got the rules of each house from each Congress and shows how they have been applied over the years and so we can see how often supermajorities were required for normal business and during the founders time is was practically nonexistent and today it is distressingly common.

>This is revisionist nonsense. There are certain things that supermajorities are required for but the regular business of the Senate was never intended...

Actually I believe pretty strongly in original intent as spelled-out in the Constitution. The original intent was and is that each House gets to determine their own rules. That does not mean the rules never change after the first Congress met.

Your replies seem like great responses to someone claiming that holds and filibusters and the like are unconstitutional.

Unfortunately for you I am not making that argument.

I am claiming that today's level of gridlock was neither intended by the founders (who left us more then the Constitution as it turns out) nor healthy for our country (cf Poland).

>I am claiming that today's level of gridlock was neither intended by the founders ... nor healthy for our country...

That's fair.

But first a step back. I think the real weak link in the HN culture is to be at its best, we must thoughtfully compose HN comments. The more nuanced and deep the subject matter, the more time it takes to compose thoughtful, valuable content, and the longer that composition must be, often being an essay on its own. That's time taken from the rest of our lives. I'm as guilty as anyone, more guilty than some, of attempting to pack more meaning into less time with pithy, succinct replies. Of course this tactic is counterproductive and only diminishes the conversation.

To your point: at the time or our nation's founding, there was only one social question in the political realm, slavery. Yes, there was also demagoguing about the Revolutionary War debt, and taxing distilled spirits affected some socio-economic groups more than others, but by and large the People expected the Federal government to decide matters of State, war and peace, Indian affairs, tariffs, and (most importantly) any legislation requiring expenditure also made provisions for meeting the expenditure.

Freedom of the Press literally meant 18th century movable type. Jefferson was free to concoct lies about Hamilton behind the cloak of anonymity, but it took some time to spread, and Congress, by and large, could deliberate at its leisure the few affairs in actually had to decide.

Gradually (after the overriding social affair in politics blew-up into the Civil War) more social questions came into political consideration: womens' suffrage, the ten, then eight-hour work day, worker safety, product safety, civil rights...much of these social improvements held to be either under the umbrella of the regulating commerce clause, or the 14th Amendment.

Then some really big changes crept in, almost unnoticed. First the income tax, which was sold as only applying to the ultra-rich. In very short order it applied to everyone, and eventually in a crafty accounting trick it became a withholding tax instead of a tax you have to go through the pain of paying. Just as significantly, sometime around WWI (if I recall correctly) Congress changed the rules so all expenditures roll-up into one (or a handful, I'm fuzzy on exactly how it works) appropriations bill. Now Congress is free to pass out social goods without paying for them.

The evolution from the hassle of movable type to the 24-hour always on news cycle does not need elaboration, but I will observe that frequently the info-tainment industry couches every emotion-laden problem imaginable in terms of the the government must/should/can do something about this.

So now we live in an age where every conceivable issue can be considered for legislation, and always-on sources of information/propaganda compete for the public's, the beurocrat's, and the legislature's attention. So is it really a good idea to ramrod every item the legislature considers through on a 51-49 vote? Tomorrow the count could easily be reversed. There's often emotional appeal made to social legislation of the past (worker safety, civil rights, etc.) and that not going forward with whatever social legislation beign considered today will somehow reverse all the good accomplished in the past, but I submit that on the margin, the increase in good achieved by these past examples was great. When there is no limit to what can be considered by the legislature, then many things will come up for which the realistic increase of good on the margin is small...and the unintended cosequensces are unknown.

You're giving to much credit to Madison. There were a couple of other Fathers around. Plus the Senate has evolved a lot since those days.

Overall I think the gridlock is overrated. If we get some bone headed politicians actually passing laws maybe people will start to care again who gets elected.

"But warrants make our job harder!" - FBI a few months ago.

In relation to your efficient Government comment.

Yes and no.

Checks and balances are good. But the Senate becoming a body that needs 60 votes to get anything done, is not.


I think it's a fallacy to think that the Senate has to pass lots of laws to be an effective organization. I think an even more stringent bar for legislation would produce better legislation rather than more of it.

It's supposed to be the great deliberator, let them deliberate until they have an idea worthy of 60% of the votes.

I buy that in principle, though it'd work better if Senators represented a larger spectrum of opinions, rather than two fairly partisan camps. There's something like 5 Senators who regularly vote with the "other" side (e.g. Susan Collins from Maine), which means that you have a pretty bad situation whether either the chamber is 55-45 and nothing can pass, or it's 60-40 and everything the leading party wants can pass. If there were more of a gradation of politics, 60-40 would maybe lead to only the better ideas passing.

A related problem is that some things really should get done, such as replacing retired/deceased judges, which the Senate is way behind on due to the practice of the past few terms where basically all nominees get filibustered.

I'd be fine with requiring a 60% vote of the house, or votes representing 60% of the population. 40% of the senate represents less than 12% of the US population.

The Senate exists for one reason only: The slaveholding governors of Carolinas, Georgia, et. al would never have ratified the constitution if it was thought that slavery had a snowball's chance in hell of being abolished by the federal government.

Interestingly the Australian Senate was modelled on the US Senate, in as much as it was intended to give the smaller states a brake on federal power (and similarly was really a necessary carrot in order to get the smaller states on board with federation).

It's now a directly elected proportional-representation body, so 60% of Senators in that body would tend to represent a similar proportion of voters.

I'm a little shocked that this is being down voted given that its recounting what I thought was the consensus view of historians....

1) To get rid of a law, you have to pass a bill to repeal or change it. Most laws on the books were passed back when you only needed 51 votes in the Senate. Today, to change or repeal them, it would take 60 votes. Thus the increasing use of the filibuster directly results in government bloat and outdated laws.

2) The government is funded by annual appropriations bills. Gridlock results in omnibus continuing resolutions because it takes 60 votes to make any significant changes. Imagine if your business got to the end of every year and said "it's too hard to think up a budget for next year, let's just use the exact same budget as last year." No matter what happened last year.

I'm curious: do you think all elections should require a supermajority? Perhaps we shouldn't elect a President unless one candidate can get 60%? And why shouldn't all elective bodies require 60% to pass legislation? For that matter, shouldn't all corporate boards use the 60% threshold?

This notion that majority-rules is a great decision procedure everywhere EXCEPT the US Senate seems very odd to me.

I think an even more stringent bar for legislation would produce better legislation rather than more of it.

Why do you think requiring a supermajority increases the quality of legislation?

Why do you think there's a contradiction here? Is there some rule that says all elective bodies must have the same rules?

One doesn't. And so?

I haven't seen anyone proffer a reason to deviate from majority-rules decision procedure. If you think it benefits the Senate, then you should be able to articulate what those benefits are and explain why they other governing bodies wouldn't also benefit.

So, can anyone explain to me why corporate boards shouldn't adopt a 60% majority rule as well?

In the case of the Senate, it only requires a simple majority to pass legislation. Terminating debate is what requires a supermajority. That seems fair to me since the Senate is supposed to be extremely deliberative. Also, the 60% supermajority isn't even that arbitrary: two-thirds of the Senate are up for reelection every couple of years. The requirement of a 60% supermajority to terminate deliberation almost ensures that the debate will benefit from the members that can afford the longer-term outlook (i.e. 5-6 years).

The distinction between terminating debate and passing legislation is disingenuous. You can't pass legislation without terminating debate. Which means that you can't pass legislation unless you have 60%.

And of course it is arbitrary. In the recent past, the threshold was 66%, not 60%. And in the distant past, Senate norms precluded this sort of arbitrary interference.

Finally, the idea that the 60% threshold leads to more debate is silly. Consider how many judicial nominations are delayed for months but then sail through with 80-100% votes.

The fact of the matter is that at any given time there are three different classes of sitting senators. The requirement of supermajority that is around two-thirds reflects that there is a qualitative difference between a group that doesn’t face reelection for another half decade and one that is likely in campaign mode. Thus, the supermajority is actually a simple majority among the classes of senators.

Also, while a threat of a filibuster might not lead to more deliberation among the members, it certainly signals to the public that something important might be at stake. At the very least it will cause journalist to report and/or editorialize on the issue.

With regard to judicial nominations, I know that there are some shenanigans but I would also expect an ideal process to look just about identical since the floor vote should be delayed until each senator has performed an independent investigation of the nominee.

Why stop at 60%? Why not require 100% of the votes?

I think it's a straw man to say anyone is saying "the Senate has to pass lots of laws to be an effective organization".

For most Congressional sessions in the past several years, I would much prefer no bills be passed than what we actually got. I don't think it would be a huge tragedy for an entire year to go by without a single bill being passed.

So, you'd like to go for a year without filling judicial vacancies, or confirming executive branch appointments or passing any appropriation bills? Do you realize that this would cause the government to stop paying its bills?

Milton Friedman used to point out that the only reason the government balanced the budget in the late 90's was not because Republicans controlled congress, but because gridlock.

He accurately predicted that if both Congress and the White House were controlled by the same party (whatever party) spending would get out of control.

As others have pointed out, gridlock is a feature of the US political system, not a bug.

The 90s balanced budgets were caused by 1) the PAYGO rules enacted in 1990 that were allowed to expire in 2002 2) the huge 1993 tax increase 3) the strong economy and runup of the stock market in the latter part of the decade.

This is not correct. Party conflict (which is what Friedman referred to) is not the same as gridlock.

To balance a budget you have to adjust spending and revenue. To do that you have to pass new bills. This is what happened during the late 1990s: the GOP Congress and the Democratic administration were forced to compromise with one another. They passed a new budget that resulted in the balanced budget.

But during gridlock, it is impossible to get new bills past the 60 vote barrier.

Gridlock does not create new balanced budgets, it creates omnibus continuing resolutions. CR's spend and tax exactly as they did last year. If last year wasn't balanced, next year under a CR will not be balanced either.

"As others have pointed out, gridlock is a feature of the US political system, not a bug."

It's a feature of all elected governments. You wanna worse gridlock.. sit on on any EU meet.

Yup, as Will Rogers said: "Just be glad you're not getting all the government you pay for"

Sure it's kind of annoying when they're building a highway or something useful but the rest of the time it's a pretty good thing that it moves at the pace of molasses.

Not when you have an executive that can outpace the rest of government on anything with the word security attached to it, so that it can do stuff like drag you into a war before anyone else can even get their boots on.

Notice that this was a battle between pro-business/anti-regulation forces and military/police-state forces. The interests of internet users was, as usual, completely irrelevant.

It's easier for small groups to organize than widely disperse ones. See Buchanan/Tullock/Olson. That's why the general interest tends to lose out in Democracy to special interests.

That failure is not limited to democracy. It's a consequence of the barriers separating government officials from other people, including centralized information media (to which government officials have much better access than citizens) and in the case of democracy, the high cost of running an election campaign, inescapably making the pursuit of money from special interests the primary concern for elected officials.

The former barrier is being eroded as people have better access to and influence over the public forum. The latter remains a contentious issue to resolve.

They were starting to pile on completely unrelated riders, it needed to go regardless of the contents.

I'm starting to think that completely unrelated riders may be far more effective than filibustering. Don't like a proposed law? Pad it with enough crap until everyone thinks it stinks.

Killing a bill with unpopular amendments is indeed a time-honored tradition in legislatures everywhere.

I'm not so sure. In most legislatures, if you have the numbers to move an unpopular amendment, you also have the numbers to defeat the original bill.

...and then you can say "so and so voted AGAIST GRANDMOTHERS!!!"

I was kind of glad they added both firearms ban and abortion ban to the same bill, making sure it would lose.

Probably because our sketchy senators tried to sneak gun control and abortion amendments into the cybersecurity bill:


Am I to understand that the reason this bill was blocked was because Obama was for it, thus the Republicans' only move was to block it from coming up for a vote? What kind of bassackwards country am I living in??

The kind that has abortion and firearms clauses in a "Cyber Security" bill.

No, because cybersecurity is not a voting issue. No one is going to step into the ballot box and think "hey Obama passed that cybersecurity bill, he's got my vote." It's a total niche issue.

The GOP opposed this particular bill because big business opposed it, and the GOP tends to line up with them. Big business opposed it because they thought it would allow the government to regulate cybersecurity more strictly.

Imagine how the rest of the planet sees it. We are supposed to believe the US is some sort of beacon of democracy and freedom. Oh dear...

yay the government protected us again from the government. oh wait...

The sad thing is, Republicans probably only voted this down to spite president, but Democrats... seriously? What the hell are you doing on the wrong side of your own party platform?

Probably they're listening to the online campaign against the bill. Hundreds of thousands (millions?) have been writing in petitions urging their congresspersons to vote against it. It does seem weird to be agreeing with the GOP though.

Where can I see a list of all the unrelated riders added to this cybersecurity act? I heard utah senator was trying to get a ban on abortion in there. What i want is github for all these sneaky slithery little laws that make it through the house and senate onto the books. It's so bad now, I don't even know what the law is, it's changing back and forth so fast. It's making everyone a criminal, even retroactively!

Drugs.. Legal! Illegal! Abortion.. Legal! Illegal! Copying a floppy, owning a lobster, downloading a file, braiding hair without a license, filming a cop.

I don't know american law and I live here.

The full text is here (pdf): http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-112s3414pcs/pdf/BILLS-112...

No abortion in the final voted-on text, but you appear to be correct on the proposed amendment. Digging through the bowels of thomas.loc.gov, it looks like, somewhat bizarrely, Mike Lee (R-UT) proposed an amendment to the cybersecurity bill that would restrict abortion in Washington, D.C., under the federal government's legislative authority for the federal district:

> SA 2716. Mr. LEE submitted an amendment intended to be proposed by him to the bill S. 3414, to enhance the security and resiliency of the cyber and communications infrastructure of the United States; which was ordered to lie on the table; as follows:

> At the appropriate place, insert the following:


> (a) Short Title.--This section may be cited as the ``District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act''.

> (b) Legislative Findings.--Congress finds and declares the following:

> (1) Pain receptors (nociceptors) are present throughout the unborn child's entire body and nerves link these receptors to the brain's thalamus and subcortical plate by no later than 20 weeks after fertilization.


1. The text wasn't voted on. The vote to stop talking about the issue and actually hold the vote on the text, failed.

2. It's not at all bizarre to see a Republican attach an abortion restriction onto a bill they want to kill.

The fact that it's allowed at all is pretty fucking bizarre. Wasn't there a bill going through to make bills only have one law/subject?

It's been attempted before, but that kind of thing is really hard to legislate effectively. At what point is something tangentially related? True, gun control and abortion bills should probably be kept separate, but what about closing the gun show loophole and also requiring conceal carry permits to have interviews? They're both about guns, but not the same issue relating to guns. It isn't really feasible, and even if it were, both parties like to pull the amend a bill to hell trick.

Sounds like a simple poison pill meant to get the Democrats to vote against an issue they are usually for, if they were voting for the bill.


All bills in the House and Senate are posted by a bot, and editorializing is done in the comments. (The bot is also a github project.)

+1 I am with you!! we need a Wiki for politicians, so year later they cannot claim they were with or against something that is popular/unpopular right now. You know -- sort of transparency website with links to sources to every claim they make. I would love to look into it -- is there any API CrunBase-type with all senators I can tap into?

They will still claim it. And it will still work, because no one but a couple policy wonk nerds actually care. Unless you can make it a theme like "waffles" or "flip-flops".

They'll claim it until someone brings a gun to a theatre and then we're all distracted and wondering what they'll do about this situation.

Even miraculously if people do care what they are going to say is that they are politicians who are responsive to grass roots movements and what the community wants and that they are changing their position to bring the people's message to corrupt fatcats in Washington.

(Ever notice how your politician is honest jim the used car salesman and every other politician is a washington fatcat?)

Maybe this will help?


Something that could keep track of that kind of stuff might be hard because everyone has a bias. But I agree tacking is important!

The trick would be to throw d3.js at it and make it fun and have lots of animated stuff charting voting patterns and policy positions.

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