Congress

  • U.S. yet to develop a strategy to secure nation’s critical infrastructure

    For years, the U.S. government has warned federal and state agencies about the threat posed by hackers who may target computer systems responsible for operating nuclear plants, electric substations, oil and gas pipelines, transit systems, chemical facilities, and drinking water facilities. In February 2013, President Barack Obama issued a directive stating, “It is the policy of the United States to strengthen the security and resilience of its critical infrastructure against both physical and cyber threats.” Two years later the federal government has yet to develop or adopt a consensus on how to secure America’s critical infrastructure from cyber criminals.

  • In U-Visa limbo: Undocumented immigrants who are victims of crimes

    Many immigrants who are victims of crimes, along with their close family members, remain at risk and are denied the opportunity to live and work in the United States as long as Congress fails to increase the number of U-visaswhich immigration authorities can grant per year. Congress established the program in 2000 as part of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Actto provide an incentive for immigrant victims to report crimes to law enforcement without fear of deportation. Applicants must allege that they have been the victim of a serious crime and provide a certification form signed by law enforcement confirming the applicant’s help or potential help in investigating the crime. USCIS, which processes the applications in the order they were received, has not evaluated any applications submitted after December 2013.

  • Lawmakers seek to create single food safety agency to improve oversight

    Lawmakers are seeking to pass a bill which would a single food safety agency to replace the current multi-agency system, which critics say is “hopelessly fragmented and outdated.” Senator Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut) have proposed the 2015 Safe Food Act, which would replace the current food safety oversight system – which consists of fifteen different agencies — with a single organization.

  • Boomerang: Democrats say they would delay vote on Iran sanctions bill

    Senator Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) announced during a Senate hearing yesterday (Tuesday) that he and other Senate Democrats would not support bringing the sanctions bill he cosponsored with Senator Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) to the floor until at least 24 March. Menendez has led a small group of Democrats who were critical of the administration’s handling of the talks with Iran over the latter’s nuclear program talks. The bi-partisan approach to the sanctions issue collapsed in the face of what Democrats considered to be a clumsy politicization of the issue by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer. Dermer suggested to Boehner the idea of inviting Netanyahu to speak in front of Congress to criticize the administration’s policy. Netanyahu is lagging in the polls behind the center-left camp in the 17 March parliamentary elections in Israel, and Dermer, one of Netanyahu’s closest political advisers, believed the speech would boost Netanyahu’s standing in Israel. The process of the invitation was not less problematic than the invitation itself: In an unprecedented break with protocol, Boehner and Dermer did not bother to consult with, or even inform, the White House or the Department of State that they were arranging for a foreign head of state to speak before Congress.

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  • Patriot Act’s reauthorization an obstacle for cyber information sharing bill

    Recent cyber hacking incidents have persuaded lawmakers to pass a cyber information sharing bill which will help protect U.S. private sector networks. Business groups and federal intelligence agencies insist that information exchange is critical to protecting the nation’s cyber infrastructure. One of the hurdles to passing such a bill is that by 1 June, Congress must reauthorize sections of the Patriot Act which are the basis for the NSA’s most controversial surveillance programs. Many lawmakers consider NSA reform to be essential before they can support the White House’s cybersecurity proposal, which would allow cyber information sharing between the public and private sector.

  • House delays vote on “the toughest border security bill ever”

    The House was supposed to vote on Wednsday on what Republicans have called “the toughest border security bill ever,” but the bill encountered harsh criticism from different sides of the GOP caucus. Some complained the measure does not address the pressing issue of immigration reform, while others complained it was the first step on slippery slope toward such reform. The border security bill, Secure Our Borders First Act (H.R. 399), sponsored by House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas), would impose harsh penalties for federal agencies that fail to meet certain requirements. One mandate aims for DHS to achieve “operational control,” or prevent illegal entry across the southern border, within five years. If DHS fails to achieve that objective, political appointees at the agency would be prohibited from traveling in government vehicles, receive reimbursement for nonessential travel, or receive pay increases or bonuses.

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  • Proposed changes to CFAA, RICO would criminalize cybersecurity research: Critics

    Cybersecurity professionals are concerned that the White House’s proposed changes to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) and the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, could criminalize cybersecurity research. The legislative proposals would make accessing public documents illegal if the documents’ owner would not have approved; create stricter punishments for anyone convicted of a cybercrime; and would allow the government to seize assets connected to cybercrimes. The White House also proposes upgrading hacking to a “racketeering” offense.

  • Insurers thankful for reauthorization of TRIA

    President Barack Obama signed in a six year renewal of Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) last Tuesday, and workers comp insurers sighed in relief after thirteen days of uncertainty following the expiration of the previous bill at the end of 2014. The insurance marketplace has adopted a “wait and see” approach to TRIA’s expiration, convinced that the negative backlash against Congress for allowing TRIA to expire would have been too great for lawmakers not to renew the law. The industry now goes back to business as usual.

  • Police chiefs, sheriffs in major U.S. cities support immigration executive order

    Twenty-seven chiefs of police and sheriffs from U.S. cities — including Los Angeles, Dallas, Denver, and Washington, D.C.— have joined the Major Cities Chiefs Associationto defend President Barack Obama’s executive order which extends deferred deportation to about five million undocumented immigrants. Many law enforcement officers around the country argue that Obama’s order will improve public safety by allowing many undocumented immigrants to feel secure enough to approach local police. They are more likely to report crime without fear of deportation, police chiefs and sheriffs assert.

  • Businesses welcome TRIA extension, but small insurers worry about reimbursements

    Last week, the property insurance, real estate, and financial services industries applauded Congress for passing the recent version of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA), which President Barack Obama is expected to sign into law. TRIA has already been extended twice and the most recent version of the bill will, beginning in 2016, raise the federal coverage backstop from $100 million to $200 million by 2020 with an increase of $20 million per year. S&P welcomed the passing of TRIA through both houses of Congress, but cautioned that the bill could hurt small insurers. The company is concerned that small insurers may not see any TRIA reimbursements with the doubling of the federal coverage backstop to $200 million.

  • Paris attacks complicate efforts to freeze DHS funding over Obama’s immigration executive orders

    Last week’s terror attacks in Paris have increased concerns of DHS officials that terrorists may be looking to attack U.S. targets. For many members of Congress, the Paris events are proof that DHS operations should continue to be funded, but opponents of the president’s immigration executive order appear ready to freeze funding for DHS altogether unless such funding does not include funds for the implementation of the president’s executive orders. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) warned fellow Republicans to be cautious: “Defunding that part of the bill that deals with enforcing the executive order makes sense but we can’t go too far here because look what happened in Paris. The Department of Homeland Security needs to be up and running,” he said.

  • Not enough senators would vote to override presidential veto of DHS defunding

    A late 2014 Republican strategy to fund DHS only through February in hopes of using further funding as a lever to change immigration policies once Republicans controlled both houses of Congress, may meet a dead end as Republican amendments to President Barack Obama’s DHS funding request will need sixty votes to clear the Senate. Senate Republicans will need at least six democrats or Democratic-leaning independents to vote yes to the Republican-led DHS funding bill.

  • Research advocates urge 114th Congress to act on Top 5 science priorities in first 100 days

    Research!America urged the 114th Congress to take action on five science priorities in the first 100 days of the legislative session in order to elevate research and innovation on the U.S. agenda. The organizations says that the five priorities: end sequestration, increase funding for U.S. research agencies, advance the 21st Century Cures initiative, repeal the medical device tax, and enact a permanent and enhanced R&D tax credit.

  • Insurance firms, developers face uncertainty now that TRIA has expired

    Insurance firms and commercial property developers are uncertain about how the commercial real estate industry will react now that the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) has expired. Many commercial property developers relied on TRIA to fulfill their loan requirements. Analysts predict real estate projects and construction jobs in Maryland, for example, will be affected by the failure to extend TRIA.

  • Insurance industry rattled by Congress's failure to reauthorize terrorism insurance backstop

    Major commercial insurers and lenders serving the real estate, tourism, and construction sectors were surprised by Congress’s failure to reauthorize the federal government’s terrorism insurance backstop,or at least extend it into 2015, when the new Congress can then reach a consensus. The Terrorism Risk Insurance Act(TRIA) was established in November 2002 as a federal backstop to protect insurers in the event an act of terrorism results in losses above $100 million. It has been extended and reauthorized twice. The insurance industry had hoped that TRIA would be renewed for another six years. The bill — the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2014 — was passed by the House, but Senate Republicans and Democrats remained in disagreement through the end of the legislative session.