Political Squabble Interrupts Hearing on SAFE Data Act

Dems angry about GOP-run committee process

WASHINGTON—A House subcommittee's markup of a bill called the SAFE Data Act is usually the kind of thing that would put most observers to sleep. It's certainly not likely to lead to much excitement. A hearing on Wednesday, though, proved to be the exception to that rule.

"We don't get called up. We don't get consulted. This is not the way for Congress to enact legislation," a very peeved Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said during the hearing. 

The dustup was over a bill, introduced by Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif., that would tighten data security standards and compel companies to notify consumers more quickly in the event of a data breach.  

Despite changes made to the bill to appease the Democrats, the minority would have none of it, complaining that the legislation had too many loopholes and lacked some consumer privacy protections. They also seemed insulted that the bill in markup wasn't a bipartisan bill that had cleared the committee last year and was passed last December by the House but died in the Senate.

And, to top it off, the subcommittee's Democrats were angry that the markup was taking place at the same time that the Subcommittee on Energy and Power was holding an oversight hearing. To send a message to the majority, Waxman called for a full reading of the bill—all 32 pages. That was finally interrupted by Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the full committee, who asked the Energy and Power Subcommittee to halt its hearing.

Waxman relented, but not without taking another shot. "We are sending a signal to you," he said, refusing to yield to Upton. "I don't think members should be treated this way. This bill is not very satisfactory to us. I'm sorry we weren't brought into negotiations. We want to be paid attention to."

Once Waxman was sure that the other subcommittee had recessed, the reading of the bill was suspended and the markup process began. 

UPDATE: Nearly five hours later, after two recesses and more than a dozen amendments offered mostly by Dems and rejected by the majority, the Subcommittee passed the bill by a voice vote.