Congressional news

Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) yesterday introduced a draft bill that would make it easier for international graduates in high-demand fields to remain in the U.S. and would offer temporary student visas to young illegal immigrants enrolling in college, reports.

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Tara Sonenshine, nominee for the role of Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, stressed the value of people-to-people exchanges in U.S. public diplomacy during her confirmation hearing yesterday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Sonenshine said:

While Congress passed the first of its overdue FY 2012 appropriations bills in the form of a three-bill “minibus” (Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science, and Transportation-HUD), it seems unlikely to do the same with the remaining nine bills. Thus, Congress is likely to wrap the remaining funding measures, including the State-Foreign Operations bill (which funds Department of State exchanges), into one “bulky” omnibus package, reports.

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The House of Representatives recently cleared, and the President signed into law, S. 1487, a business travel bill that “would provide a seven-year authorization for the secretary of Homeland Security, in coordination with the secretary of State, to establish a program to issue Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Business Travel Cards,” reported.

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At an event last week hosted by NAFSA: Association of International Educators and Goucher College, honorary co-host Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and colleague Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) both underlined the importance of international education and study abroad for American students.

Five former Secretaries of State called on members of Congress to support “a strong and effective International Affairs Budget” in a letter published by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC) earlier this week.

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We understand that a Senate floor battle is looming on foreign affairs spending.  The State-Foreign Operations appropriations bill, in which exchanges are funded, is expected to come to the Senate floor in the next few days.  As you know, the Senate appropriation for Department of State exchange programs in FY 2012 ($612 million) is far higher than that of the House ($538 million). Successful amendments that strip funds from the bill will put Senate appropriators at a lower starting point in their negotiations with House appropriators in the final draft of the legislation.

Two key appropriations activities are happening in Washington right now:

Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Roy Blunt (R-MO), chairs of the Senate Tourism Caucus, introduced on Tuesday a bill to boost U.S. tourism and “jolt” the U.S. economy, The Hill reported. The bill would speed up the wait for visas for international travelers to enter the United States, a move the senators said would “help the economy as growth and job creation stagnates.”

The House of Representatives on Tuesday passed HR 2608, a continuing resolution (CR) that will fund the federal government through November 18, reported.

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