Congressional news

Calling for a “new brand of American diplomacy”, Keith Reinhard, President of Business for Diplomatic Action, Inc. (BDA), told members of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security and International Relations Monday, that his not-for-profit organization believes “there is an urgent need for Congress to act now to dramatically overhaul the management of our public diplomacy efforts so that we as a nation can work not only to rebuild bridges of trust abroad, but also to help defuse the hatred that spawns terrorism.”

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Appearing before the House International Relations Committee yesterday, Deputy Executive Director of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, Christopher Kojm advised Committee members that the U.S. should develop a comprehensive strategy to counter terrorism. “We cannot succeed against terrorism by Islamist extremist groups unless we use all the elements of national power….If we favor one tool while neglecting others, we leave ourselves vulnerable and weaken our national effort.” Diplomacy, public diplomacy, and foreign aid were all cited as elements of national power by the Commission, commonly known as the 9/11 Commission.

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On Thursday, the U.S. Senate approved legislation to extend by one year, to October 26, 2005, the deadline for inclusion of a biometric identifier on passports issued by Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries. The legislation, H.R. 4417, passed the House of Representatives on June 14. It would amend the deadline of October 26, 2004, set by the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002 for the 27 countries that participate in the VWP.

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In an effort to eliminate barriers to foreign students and exchange visitors, Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) introduced legislation on Wednesday that would streamline the visa process and require the government to develop a strategic plan to attract foreign students.

Recognizing that the safety and security of the United States are extremely important, in his statement on the Senate Floor introducing the bill, Coleman said, "We all know there is absolutely no such thing as an absolute guarantee of absolute security in a free society, so what we do is measure the level of threat against the loss of certain other values and then we try to strike a balance. In the area of student visas, I believe we have pushed security concerns beyond the logical point and need to make adjustments to our policy."

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The House of Representatives approved legislation on Thursday, July 15, to fund the foreign operations activities of the U.S. government for Fiscal Year (FY) 2005, including development assistance, aid to the Middle East, and other important programs. The $19.4 billion package, passed by a vote of 365-41, is $1.9 billion less than President bush's request, but $1.9 billion more than Congress appropriated for FY 2004. The three "overriding priorities" of the legislation, as outlined in the report language accompanying the bill, are: responding to the global HIV/AIDS pandemic; supporting our allies in the war on terrorism; and supporting innovative approaches to foreign assistance through the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

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Late yesterday afternoon, the U.S. House of Representatives passed its version of the Commerce-Justice-State-Judiciary Appropriations legislation, which includes $345.346 million for the educational and cultural exchange programs of the Department of State for FY 2005. The funding level for these programs is $28.713 million above the FY 2004 funding level, and equal to the amount in President Bush's FY 2005 budget request. The legislation was approved by a vote of 397 to 18. Attention now turns to the Senate, where the timetable for action remains uncertain.

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House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) named their six members of the Commission on the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship Program last week. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) and Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) appointed six commissioners earlier this year. Under the terms of the legislation authorizing the establishment of the Commission, 12 of its 17 members would be appointed by Congressional leaders, equally divided between the House and Senate, and the majority and minority parties. The leaders will jointly appoint the chair of the commission.

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The House Appropriations Committee includes $345.346 million for the educational and cultural exchange programs of the Department of State for FY 2005 in its version of the Commerce-Justice-State-the Judiciary (CJS) appropriations legislation, approved Wednesday. The funding level for these programs is $28.713 million above the FY 2004 funding level, and equal to the amount in President Bush's FY 2005 budget request.

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Margaret Tutwiler, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, has resigned her position, effective June 30. According to published reports, she will join the New York Stock Exchange, serving as executive vice president for communications and government relations.

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Noting the need to "reach beyond the traditional", "think outside the box", and "be more creative", Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Margaret Tutwiler opened the first public meeting of the Advisory Committee on Cultural Diplomacy in Washington yesterday.

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