House Passes U.S Budget Deal; Includes Cybersecurity Provision

Published: December 18, 2015 12:52 PM /


US House Seal

The United States House of Representatives has passed a major Budget bill, an omnibus package totaling $1.15 trillion dollars.

The vote was 316-113, with 150 Republicans and 166 Democrats supporting the bill. The bill was debated for over 48 hours before it was passed by the House. 

The bill includes budgetary provisions for a $66 million increase in federal outlays, way above the previously agreed upon limits, that will be divided between military and nonmilitary programs for 2016. Other expenditures include $1.4 billion for military construction projects and a $2 billion increase to the National Institute of Health. Finally, the bill also allows for the reauthorization and expansion of benefits for emergency care workers who responded to the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks.

The House also included a major measure that will lift a forty year ban on crude oil exports, a provision the Republican party lobbied for extensively. In exchange, the Democratic party reportedly negotiated for tax credit extensions for solar and wind energy providers, and other environmental measures. The provision, titled H.R 2029, will include $680 billion in revised tax breaks over the next ten years, some of which will be made permanent such as small business expenses and individual deductions for state and local sales taxes.

One major surprise to the bill was the inclusion of a cyber-surveillance provision, which was added to the omnibus package late Wednesday night. The Cybersecurity Act of 2015, removes restrictions on direct information sharing between the NSA and the Pentagon. The act also eliminates restrictions on the government's use of any information acquired through surveillance activities, and allows law enforcement to use that acquired information to prosecute any crimes found. Currently, there are no restrictions on the agencies to scrub unnecessary information.

The Cybersecurity Act shares similarities to the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2014, or CISA, including the sharing of information with agencies such as the NSA and broad definitions of how these agencies obtain private information. According to Wired, the new version of CISA is actually worst than the previous version, as they have knocked away the few restrictions on it. Notably, it creates the ability for the president to create portals for companies and agencies like the FBI and the Office of the Director of National Security to directly exchange information without the intervening Department of Homeland Security. It also significantly lowers the bar for backchannel passing of information for law enforcement from "imminent threat" to "specific threat". You don't have to worry about the NSA getting it directly as they are excluded as part of the Department of Defense from being able to have such a portal. 

The Cybersecurity Act was a direct response to the recent terrorist attacks happening all over the world, including the deadly Paris attacks and the San Bernardino incident. Other provisions are included in the bill in response to recent terrorist attacks, including more difficult security checks for those who may be a part of a visa-waiver program. The bill does not include any provisions that restrict Syrian or Iraqi refugees from entering the United States completely. 

President Obama is expected to sign the Budget bill into law in the coming days with the senate expected to vote on it today.

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