Supporters of a bipartisan cybersecurity bill in the Senate said they hope they can muster enough votes this week to initiate debate, yet admitted recent changes haven’t converted a substantial number of opponents.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told congressional reporters yesterday that passing the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 is “extremely important,” but he doesn’t know if the minimum of 60 senators will approve this week a motion to proceed to the bill, which would then allow Senate floor debate to begin. Still, co-sponsors of the recently revised bill, including Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I/D-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), sought to strike an upbeat tone during a press conference yesterday about the fate of the new version of the legislation they unveiled last week.

“I’m very optimistic that we’ll have the votes to proceed to the measure, (and) that there’ll be the opportunity to offer amendments that are germane and relevant,” Lieberman said. Collins said the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 “represents the Senate’s best chance to pass a cybersecurity bill this year.”

Still, she and Lieberman acknowledged opposition remains to the bill despite a major change intended to convert critics: the measure no longer calls for the government to mandate cybersecurity standards for critical infrastructure providers, and the latest version instead would offer incentives to such providers if they adopt voluntary security measures.

Lieberman acknowledged opposition remains to the bill even after the critical-infrastructure-related changes, a situation he called “disappointing.” Collins, likewise, told reporters she “can’t dispute” the “characterization that we have not gained as much (support) as we would have expected or hoped” by revising the bill. 

Collins, though, said she believes changes in the legislation “have helped us get a significant number of votes from Republican members to proceed to the bill.” Lieberman similarly said enough senators have told him the bill looks “more reasonable” now that he’s confident 60 of them will pass a motion to proceed on the bill to initiate debate. That procedural vote, to start debate, is expected this week.

“Probably the No. 1 criticism by many groups–including particularly business groups and some of our colleagues–was that this bill was just more regulation of business,” Lieberman said, arguing: “This is not about business regulation, it’s about national security from cyber attack.”

Critics of the bill include Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member John McCain (R-Ariz.). He criticized on Monday the bill’s contents, prioritization in the Senate, and chance of passing in the House (Defense Daily, July 24). Lieberman emphasized yesterday that the bill’s authors worked with critics on both the right and left side of the political spectrum to craft a bill that actually could pass the Senate.

“We co-sponsors, to be blunt, gave up some things that we thought were important in our original bill,” Lieberman said. They compromised in order to move the bill because of the “urgency and seriousness of the current cyber-threat to our country,” he said.

Concerns by business groups and senators including Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) led to the critical-infrastructure-provider revisions. The bill’s authors also attempted to heed concerns from privacy advocates and lawmakers such as Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) by adding provisions intended to better protect citizens’ privacy and civil liberties.

Reid, speaking at his weekly press conference yesterday, expressed frustration with Republicans’ opposition to debating the bill and said he would like to allow floor debate on any germane amendments. Lieberman and Collins said they also want ample opportunity for debate on any relevant amendments. McCain, who supports an alternate cyber bill, had said on Monday he feared senators would be allowed to offer few if any amendments to the Lieberman-Collins measure.

McCain also predicted the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 has “no chance” of passing the Republican-led House. The lower chamber passed multiple cybersecurity bills in April, none of which seek to have critical-infrastructure providers adopt cybersecurity standards.

Lieberman, though, predicted yesterday his bill and its critical-infrastructure provisions would not necessarily die in the House.

He noted that a House cybersecurity task force supported imposing mandatory regulations on critical-infrastructure providers.

“I think if we pass a bill (in the Senate), like the one we’ve now put in, that we’ve got a good chance in conference (committee negotiations with the House) to get something done,” Lieberman told reporters after yesterday’s press conference.

Lieberman chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and Collins is the ranking member. Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Tom Carper (D-Del.) also co-sponsored the Cybersecurity Act of 2012.

The Senate is slated to work through the end of next week before breaking for August recess, after which it will be in session just a few weeks before the November elections.