Congressional news

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) sent in the aftermath of the Boston marathon bombings and in light of the immigration reform debate, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) voices concerns about “flaws” in the current immigration and refugee systems and notes that the Senate should not move forward with the immigration reform “until we understand the specific failures of our immigration system.”

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In his testimonies before two House and two Senate committees this week, Secretary of State John Kerry underlined the importance of U.S. engagement with the world, saying that “the United States cannot be strong at home if we are not strong in the world.”

Released this morning after a 10-week delay, the President’s FY14 budget request cuts State Department international exchange programs by nearly $40 million. The FY14 requested level for exchanges, $562.7 million, is a 6.6 per cent decrease from current FY13 funding of $602.5 million, and an 11 per cent decrease from the previous high water mark of $635 million in FY10. 

Congress passed a new continuing resolution (CR) last week that funds the government for the remainder of FY 2013, but does not address sequestration. Funding for Department of State exchange programs will remain unchanged for the final six months of the fiscal year.

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“I am a huge believer” in exchange programs, Chairwoman Kay Granger (R-TX) proclaimed during a hearing of the House State-Foreign Operations (SFOPS) Appropriations Subcommittee last week. During the hearing, Rep. Granger recalled the positive interactions she has had with the two international exchange students her son is currently hosting in Texas. Granger’s expression of support for exchanges came in response to the testimony delivered by Dr. Dan Davidson, President of the American Councils for International Education: ACTR/ACCELS regarding funding for Department of State exchanges in FY 2014.

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The U.S. Senate today confirmed former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel as 24th Secretary of Defense, “after numerous delays and stiff GOP opposition” following Hagel’s nomination by President Obama on January 7, CQ.com reports. Hagel received 58 to 41 votes, with Republican Senators Rand Paul (KY), Thad Cochran (MI), Mike Johanns (NE), and Richard Shelby (AL) joining Senate Democrats by voting in his favor.

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Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) recently re-introduced (for a third time) the Student Visa Security Improvement Act (H.R. 640), which seeks to increase the tracking of international students in the United States. Bilirakis previously introduced this bill in 2011 (as H.R. 1211), as well as in 2010 (as H.R. 5208). Both times, the bills were referred to the House Judiciary Committee but were not considered any further.

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Comparing the recent immigration reform proposals from both President Obama and the bipartisan Senate “Gang of Eight,” Vic Johnson writes on the NAFSA: Association of International Educators blog that “the president’s plan is clearly stronger” because:

Clinton says goodbye, underlines importance of IA budget and exchanges

Bidding farewell to the State Department this afternoon as she stepped down from her post as Secretary of State, and after “a challenging week saying goodbye to so many people,” Hillary Clinton said she was proud “to have been Secretary of State” and “in the work [the State Department has] done to elevate diplomacy and development.”

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With its leadership changing and the views of its eight Republican members ranging “all over the map,” the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) of the 113th Congress is likely to showcase “a lack of cohesion,” as well as strong, vigorous debates, CQ.com reports. This new dynamic could “reinvigorate a panel that has grown increasingly marginalized on Capitol Hill in recent years,” though it also runs the risk of “creating more dysfunction, with committee infighting bogging down the legislative agenda.”

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