Much of Washington, like most of the country, was obviously focused on the tragedy in Boston and the ricin-laced letters mailed to Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) and President Obama. Here are some other issues of interest that took place in our nation’s capital:
Immigration reform bill unveiled
This week, the bipartisan Gang of 8 unveiled their comprehensive immigration reform bill. The highlights of the proposal include:
Increased border security
The Gang of 8 legislation calls for $3 billion to beef up border security, which includes fortifying fences, staffing up patrols and acquiring surveillance technology from the Department of Defense – including drones and drone pilots, according to the summary.
It also requires constant surveillance of high-risk border areas and demands that border officers turn back at least 90 percent of those who attempt illegal border crossings each year.
Path to legal residency
The bipartisan legislation would provide a path to legal residency for some of the illegal immigrants currently in the U.S. Only illegal immigrants who arrived before December 31, 2011 would be eligible for legal residency.
For those eligible, the bill requires undocumented immigrants to pay a penalty of up to $500 and show that they have paid taxes since they arrived in this country. The path to legal residency would be barred for those who have committed a felony or three or more misdemeanors.
After 10 years as a “provisional” resident, an applicant could apply for lawful permanent residency with the payment of a $1,000 fee.
The Gang of 8 proposal creates a new legal status: a blue card. The blue card would be available to agricultural workers who are currently in the country illegally, and have worked in the American agricultural industry for at least 100 days over the last two years.
Applicants would be required to pay a $400 fee, show they have paid their taxes and have not committed a crime. The bill caps the blue cards at about 112,000 for the first five years.
Blue card holders would be eligible for permanent legal residency in five years, half the time of other adult immigrants in the country illegally.
While the bipartisan Senate bill is a positive for immigration reform supporters, the future of comprehensive immigration reform in the House remains much murkier. While a bipartisan group in the House is expected to unveil its own proposal soon, it is unclear at this point whether the House will move a comprehensive bill or choose to move immigration piece by piece.
Gun control compromise fails in the Senate
On Wednesday, the Senate considered a slew of gun related pieces of legislation – almost all of which failed to get the necessary 60 votes, including the bipartisan Manchin-Toomey bill on universal background checks. The Manchin-Toomey bill, which was viewed as the most likely to pass the Senate, got 54 votes.
Senator Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) assault weapons ban also failed with only 40 votes – far short of the 60 necessary. Other bills that failed included measures to prevent straw purchases and a Republican-led effort to provide concealed-carry reciprocity.
Cyber security measure passes in House
On Thursday, the House passed the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) by a wide bipartisan margin – 288 to 127. Civil liberties groups and a coalition of civil liberties-minded Democrats and Republicans remain concerned that the legislation would allow the government to monitor citizens' private information and companies to misuse it.
Supporters of CISPA maintain they have made several improvements on last year’s version of the bill that stalled in the Senate after President Obama threatened a presidential veto of the bill if it reached his desk.
Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and John Thune (R-SD) are working on similar cyber security legislation in the Senate and hope to bring the legislation to a vote in the Senate as soon as possible.
After House passage, the White House issued a statement both expressing some concerns with CISPA but also pledging to work with the Senate to improve the bill and to pass cyber security legislation.
Online sales tax
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) began the process this week that would allow for an online sales tax bill to come directly to the Senate floor, skipping the traditional mark-up in the Senate Finance Committee. The bill, known as the Marketplace Fairness Act gives states the authority to compel online and catalog retailers (remote sellers), no matter where they are located, to collect sales tax at the time of a transaction – like local retailers are already required to do.
The legislation is opposed by Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-MT), which is why leader Reid is using a procedural move to avoid the legislation going to Finance. While nothing is guaranteed, the legislation got overwhelming bipartisan support a few weeks ago in a test vote on the issue in the Senate.
South Carolina 1st Congressional District Special Election: The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) announced this week that it was pulling the plug on support for former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford’s bid for his old Congressional seat. The announcement came on the heels of news that Sanford had violated the terms of his divorce by trespassing on his ex-wife’s property.
Iowa: Rep. Steve King (R-IA) raised just $91,000 in the first quarter, leading many to believe he will take a pass on running for the open Senate seat being vacated by long-time Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA).
A look ahead:
Thursday, April 25 – The House Homeland Security Committee's Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence will hold a hearing on Counterterrorism Efforts to Combat a Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) Attack on the Homeland at 10:00 a.m. in 311 Cannon.
Tuesday, April 23 – The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on the Department of the Army in review of the Defense Authorization Request for FY2014 and the Future Years Defense Program at 9:30 a.m. in 106 Dirksen. Secretary of the Army John McHugh and Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Raymond Odierno are scheduled to testify.
Tuesday, April 23 – The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's (CFPB) Semi-Annual Report to Congress at 10:00 a.m. in 538 Dirksen. CFPB Director Richard Cordray is scheduled to testify.
Tuesday, April 23 – The Senate Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities will hold a hearing on proliferation prevention programs at the Energy Department and at the Defense Department in review of the Defense Authorization Request for FY2014 and the Future Years Defense Program at 2:30 p.m. in 222 Russell.
Wednesday, April 24 – The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Business Practices will hold a hearing on medical equipment and Medicare payments at 10:00 a.m. in 342 Dirksen.
Thursday, April 25 – The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on the Department of the Navy in review of the Defense Authorization Request for FY2014 and the Future Years Defense Program at 9:30 a.m. in 106 Dirksen. Secretary of the Navy Raymond Mabus, Jr., Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert, and Commandant of the Marine Corps James Amos are scheduled to testify.
Thursday, April 25 – The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on the effect of drought on energy and water management at 10:00 a.m. in 366 Dirksen.
Washington by the numbers:
9.14 billion: The number of hours each year Americans spend, combined, on government paperwork.
“People are surprised. Of course, some people are surprised I can even read.” – George W. Bush on his painting (Dallas Morning News).
Steven C. LaTourette, President | 202.737.8933
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