Congressional news

“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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Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel (R) is “likely” to be confirmed by the Senate as the next Secretary of Defense, according to Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (R-IL). Durbin has said that so far, he has not counted a single Democratic “no” vote (CQ.com reports). Even so, CQ.com also reports that Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi is the only Republican who has committed to voting for Hagel’s confirmation.

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A bipartisan group of Senators introduced a bill yesterday that would automatically grant green cards to international graduates of U.S. universities with degrees in the STEM fields, as well as significantly increase the number of H-1B visas, CQ.com reports.

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Early in 2013, Congress and the White House finally reached an agreement to keep the U.S. from plunging over “the fiscal cliff.” While this agreement included some provisions on spending and revenue and resolved the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, it delayed the more critical decisions needed to prevent sequestration and achieve long-term deficit reduction. Because of this, sequestration and its embedded automatic spending cuts were not avoided but simply delayed, until March 1 – a date that both coincides with the time the U.S. is expected to again hit the debt ceiling, and is only weeks before the current FY 2013 continuing resolution (CR) expires, on March 27.

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By a vote of 94 to 3, the Senate overwhelming approved Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) yesterday afternoon as the United States’ next Secretary of State, The Washington Post reports. Kerry abstained from voting but watched the proceedings from the front of the Senate chamber. Three Republicans voted against Kerry: Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn of Texas, and Sen.

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