Congressional news

Last week, Speaker of the House John Boehner announced the 2012 Congress Bundestag/Bundesrat exchange, “an annual exchange program for staff members from both countries” that “gives professional staff the opportunity to observe and learn about each other’s political institutions and interact on issues of mutual interest.”

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Despite attempts by Senators Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) to reauthorize the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, the 64-year old, seven-member governmental advisory body died a “quiet death” in December after it did not win reauthorization from Congress, Government Executive reports.

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Department of State educational and cultural exchange programs received $598.8 million for FY 2012 in the “megabus” spending package passed by Congress on Friday and Saturday. This funding level is exactly even with the final FY 2011 appropriation for exchanges, and falls $38.9 million below the President’s FY12 request.

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, CQ.com 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, CQ.com 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,” CQ.com 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.

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