Congress

  • SurveillanceFBI, NSA want surveillance measures to remain in reauthorized Patriot Act

    On 1 June, Section 215 of the U.S.A Patriot Act, which permits law enforcement and intelligence agencies to collect certain customers’ records from U.S. businesses including communications and credit card firms, is set to expire. Congress has been debating whether to reauthorize the section of the act or pass measures that will curb the level of surveillance it currently grants. In recent days, representatives from the NSA and the FBI have been meeting with legislators to inform them of the importance of Section 215, still both chambers of Congress seem to be uncertain on how to move forward.

  • H-1B visasTech companies push for more visas for highly skilled foreign workers

    Tech companies seeking more visas for highly skilled foreign workers are pushing their agenda as the United States grant visas to a number of immigrants in a lottery which began this week. Supporters of the campaign say 233,000 people are vying for 85,000 H-1B temporary visas. Some critics want to cut back on the H-1B visas, blaming the program for displacing American workers, butcalls to scale back on H-1B visas will have to overcome a campaign backed by powerful groups. In 1999, Congress raised the cap to 115,000 to help the booming technology sector. That limit soon rose to 195,000 before falling back to its current level in 2004.

  • Food safetyImplementing new food safety measure hampered by lack of funding

    Roughly forty-eight million Americans have food-borne illness each year, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 128,000 of them are hospitalized, and 3,000 die. The cost of treatment and lost income is $15 billion a year or more, according to data from the Agriculture Department.When Congress passed the 2010 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) to give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) new powers to prevent food outbreaks, however, it failed adequately to fund the agency, thereby diminishing its ability to implement new regulations and inspection powers on food producers and foreign suppliers.

  • ImmigrationHouse Democrats write court in support of Obama’s immigration executive order

    On Monday, 181 Democratic House members filed a joint amicus brief, telling the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuitthat the executive branch has the authority to make certain policy changes on immigration matters. Specifically, they noted that that the enforcement of immigration laws and the deferral of certain deportations are within the discretion of the executive branch. The lawmakers added that the White House is often better positioned than Congress to determine how to adjust immigration laws.

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  • DHS grantsDHS FY2015 preparedness grants total $1.6 billion

    Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson last week announced the release of Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 Notices of Funding Opportunity for nine DHS preparedness grant programs totaling more than $1.6 billion. “The grants reflect the Department’s focus on implementation of an all-of-nation, whole-community approach to the building, sustainment, and delivery of those core capabilities essential to achieving a secure and resilient nation,” DHS says.

  • Patriot ActPrivacy concerns potentially an obstacle to 1 June Patriot Act reauthorization

    With the USA Patriot Act set to expire on 1 June, lawmakers are debating whether the bill, which allows the National Security Agency (NSA) to collect bulk metadata of U.S. phone records, should be extended. The act was last renewed in 2011, before former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed details of the U.S. intelligence agency’s surveillance activities. The debate around the reauthorization of the Patriot Act focuses on Section 215 of the law, used by the NSA to mass collect phone records in an effort to locate terrorists who might be calling supporters in the United States.

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  • CybersecuritySenate panel passes revised cybersecurity bill, but privacy concerns remain

    Last Thursday, the Senate Intelligence Committeepassed the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act(CISA) meant to encourage the private sector to share data with federal agencies, with the hopes of preventing and responding to cyberthreats before they materialized. The bill is a reincarnation of the 2013 Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act(CISPA), which drew a veto threat from President Barack Obama because of privacy concerns. Critics say that CISA, as was the case with its predecessor, would create a legal framework for companies to more closely monitor internet users and share that data with government agencies.

  • IranIran letter may be a failed experiment or a sign of things to come

    By Peter Spiro

    Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) sparked a political firestorm with his 9 March open letter to the leaders of Iran, co-signed by forty-six of his colleagues. The letter warns Iranian negotiators that President Obama’s successor could cancel any agreement with the United States not approved by the Senate as a formal treaty. Cotton’s observations on U.S. treaty law are facile at best, the stuff of an elective constitutional law course. It is not the substance that has rankled so many Washington observers, however, it is the form. Many described the letter as a “breach of protocol,” as if it has been out of institutional politesse that members of Congress have historically refrained from this kind of direct communication with foreign leaders. That understates the case considerably. Established constitutional doctrine holds that presidents have exclusive authority to engage foreign governments on the nation’s behalf. If this principle – sometime called John Marshall’s “sole organ” doctrine, after Chief Justice Marshall – is not followed, and if politics does not stop at the water’s edge, the result will be a free-for-all foreign policy, a scaling up of the polarization already endemic to domestic politics. No one should welcome the prospect, but it may become a fact of life. Expect presidents to up the ante by taking more aggressive unilateral measures, further reducing the possibility of inter-party cooperation. The 9 March letter may be a peek at a new kind of politics beyond the water’s edge, requiring new kinds of navigation.

  • BlimpsNew House caucus to promote blimps as cost effective means for cargo transport

    To the general public, airships are familiar for their use as advertising blimps, but transportation engineers see airships as large, low-emissions transportation vessels which can carry large amounts of cargo into areas that lack infrastructure such as runways.The newHouse Cargo Airship Caucus aims to increase financial support for the use of lighter-than-air vehicles for carrying military cargo and humanitarian aid. “The unrealized potential [of blimps] is vast,” says one expert.. “Lack of funding is a big killer.”

  • Immigration & agricultureAgriculture groups say bill would disrupt farming operations, decrease food production

    The Legal Workforce Act(LWAH.R. 1147), introduced by U.S. Representative Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and approved this week by the House Judiciary Committee, could disrupt farming operations if it passes Congress. LWA requires employers in the United States, within three years, to use E-Verifyto verify whether employees are legally allowed to work in the country. Ag industry groups say that passing LWA without some sort of immigration reform for agricultural workers could lead to a $30 billion to $60 billion decrease in food production. The ag industry also notes that each of the two million hired farm employees supports two to three fulltime American jobs in the food processing, transportation, farm equipment, marketing, retail, and other sectors.

  • DHS budgetDHS shutdown averted as House passes “clean” funding bill

    The House yesterday voted to fund the Department of Homeland Security to the end of the fiscal year, without conditioning the extension on defunding the implementation of Obama’s immigration executive order. The “clean” funding bill passed on a 257-167 vote, with seventy-five Republicans joining all 182 Democrats to avert a shutdown. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), in a rare move for a speaker, left his chair and went to the House floor to cast a vote in favor of the funding extension. In a speech to the Republican caucus on Tuesday, just before Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress, Boehner presented members of the caucus with three options: another stopgap bill, taking up a “clean” bill which has already passed the Senate, and a Friday-into-Saturday shutdown of DHS. Boehner told fellow Republicans that he did not want to run the risk of a DHS shutdown, which, he stressed, “wasn’t an option” with the current level of threats to national security.

  • CybersecurityTexas lawmakers on the Hill lead drive for cybersecurity legislation

    After recent high-profile cyberattacks on the U.S. private sector, Congress has been tasked with passing legislation that will address cybersecurity concerns including how the private sector should report data breaches to regulators and how the U.S. government should respond to state-sponsored cyberattacks. Three Texas Republican lawmakers, through leadership roles in committees and subcommittees, have been charged with exploring solutions to those concerns.

  • Patriot ActClapper: Congress would be blamed if Section 215 is not renewed -- and “untoward incident” occurred

    James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said that if Congress failed to reauthorize a controversial provision of the Patriot Act by June, then lawmakers who opposed the renewal of the provision – Section215 – would bear the blame if a terrorist attack, which could have been prevented by actions Section 215 permits, happened. Clapper said that if Congress decided not to renew the Patriot Act, or decided to renew it without Section 215, and an “untoward incident” occurred as a result, he hopes “everyone involved in that decision assumes responsibility” and does not just blame the intelligence community.

  • Real IDIllinois scrambles to meet Real ID deadline

    State officials in Illinois are working to make driver’s licenses and identification cards comply with the Real ID Act of 2005before commercial air travel restrictions are implemented in 2016. Illinois identification cards do not meet minimum standards mandated by Congress in 2005. The Real ID Act requires states to verify personal information of applicants including birth certificates. The information is then electronically scanned and stored in a federal database, and data can be shared among states and the federal government.

  • DHS fundingHouse votes for one-week extension of DHS funding

    On Friday, just hours before the partial shut-down of DHS, the House Republican leadership, with the help of Democratic lawmakers, managed to secure a majority for a one-week extension of the funding for the department. The vote for a one-week extension passed 357 to 60 — but not before a humiliating defeat for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and members of the GOP House leadership. The leadership was convinced it had the votes for a three-week extension, but that proposal was defeated when more than fifty Republican lawmakers bolted and voted against the bill – and their leaders. Democrats lawmakers then came to the help of the speaker, voting for the one-week extension on what they regard as a tacit understanding that toward the end of this week the House will vote on a “clean” extension of the DHS budget to the end of the fiscal year.