THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS - December 15, 2017

Dec 17, 2017

In this issue: 

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GOP denies NMC grad college options

After a 13-hour markup on Tuesday, the Education and the Workforce Committee passed a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act,  H.R. 4508. Approved along strict party lines, the “Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act” will make college more expensive and gives for-profits unprecedented access to student aid funds. I offered an amendment to the bill that would provide federal funds for community college graduates in the Northern Marianas and American Samoa, the only two areas in the country without four-year institutions, to make up the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition at public colleges and universities across the country. Most students in these two territories who want more than a two-year degree must leave to further their education. Although two Republican committee members voted in favor of my amendment along with all Democratic members, it was narrowly defeated 19-21. I plan to continue working on the proposal before the Higher Education Act is ultimately reauthorized. In all, 40 amendments were offered by Democrats during markup in an attempt to improve the Republican bill, nearly all of them voted down. Highlights among the Democratic amendments:

  • Pell Grants – increases the maximum Pell Grant award, makes Pell Grant funding completely mandatory, and indexes Pell Grants to inflation.
  • FAFSA Simplification – simplifies the Free Application for Federal Student Aid process to ensure increased completion and maximum benefit to low-income students and families
  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness – reinstates program to allow eligible borrowers who work in public service to have their student loans forgiven after 10 years of payments
  • Student Loan Refinance – allows students to refinance student loans at the same low rates offered to new borrowers
  • Teacher Assistance – restores Teacher Quality Partnership Grants and TEACH Grants, two programs eliminated in H.R. 4508
  • Campus-Based Aid – strikes repeal of FSEOG for very low-income students, reauthorizes Perkins Loan Program, and improves Federal Work Study program
  • Minority Serving Institutions – increases allowable uses of existing MSI programs and establishes multiple programs to support MSIs and their students
  • America’s College Promise – provides tuition- and fee-free community college programs
  • Community College Student Supports – provides grants to community colleges to improve degree completion
  • Students with Disabilities – improves higher education access for students with disabilities
  • Child Care – increases federal funding for campus-based child care
  • DREAM – makes DREAMers eligible for Federal Student Aid
  • Campus Sexual Assaults – strikes provisions that negatively impact efforts to address sexual assaults on campus

End of net neutrality is bad for the Marianas

For us in the Marianas, who already suffer from slower internet speeds than the rest of the country, Thursday’s decision by the Federal Communications Commission to end “net neutrality” is bad news. It means internet service providers will be able charge more for certain content and end the free and open, level playing field the internet has always been. Because of our remote location, as individuals we rely on this equal access on the internet to get information and connect to friends and family. Our local businesses, too, need unlimited connections to Asia, the U.S., and the rest of the world, to stay economically competitive. Democrats in Congress are planning legislation to reverse the FCC decision. I will be part of that effort.

How federal tax hurts us

We do not pay federal income taxes in the Marianas, so why am I opposed to H.R. 1, the Republican tax bill now on the verge of passage? First, the Commonwealth Government will lose revenues. The Commonwealth income tax code mirrors the federal internal revenue code. So, if H.R. 1 reduces federal revenues, as the bipartisan congressional Joint Committee on Taxation estimates, then the Commonwealth will also suffer lower revenues. Second, when the federal government cuts its revenues by $1.445 trillion, as H.R. 1 will do, then Congress will have to cut spending or allow our national debt to grow. Speaker Paul Ryan has already signaled that he intends to cut spending. Specifically, he wants to cut “entitlement” programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, which serve upwards of 18,000 of us in the Marianas. But there will also be pressure to cut other federal programs in education, housing, help for the disabled, and infrastructure from which the Commonwealth government typically receives more than $100 million annually. The only way to make up those revenue losses will be for the Commonwealth to raise taxes locally. I am not opposed to tax reform in principle, but it must be revenue neutral to prevent these harms to the people I represent. H.R. 1 does not meet that test, so I oppose it.

Clearing the Air

Governor Ralph Dlg. Torres and members of the Northern Marianas Business Alliance Corporation met with me in Washington on Monday. Afterwards, the business leaders said they were unhappy with my work to make sure our economy has a sufficient workforce. As I explained at the meeting, I am not free to discuss details of the discussions of the bicameral, bipartisan congressional working group that is drafting legislation addressing the labor issue. I have held numerous listening sessions with a wide variety of groups and individuals in the Marianas over the last year, however, so I understand what people want and what our economy needs. Of course, no legislation can please everybody, but everyone will have further opportunity to comment once a bill is introduced and scheduled for a hearing. See my complete response here.

Defense bill now law

The President signed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 conference report into law on Tuesday. In all, the NDAA authorizes $700 billion for defense spending, raises military pay by 2.4 percent, and increases troop levels across the services. Among the provisions of particular interest to the Marianas:

Unlimited H visas safe

After intervention by the congressional office, a technical error in the Senate version of the 2018 NDAA, threatening the Marianas’ unlimited access to foreign workers using H visas, has been corrected. H visas are used for temporary and seasonal workers in various categories, including professional occupations, agriculture, or construction. In addition to preserving the Marianas’ exemption from the numerical limit on H visas that applies nationwide and is usually oversubscribed the 2018 NDAA creates a new subcategory of the H-2B visa and allows up to 4,000 for services or labor directly associated with the military build-up. This provision only applies to the Northern Marianas if and when the current immigration transition period ends and the Commonwealth government agrees on the terms of the build-up.

$12.9M for Tinian divert

The 2018 NDAA also includes an additional $12.9 million for the Air Force divert airfield project on Tinian. Together with $9 million that Congress authorized in the 2017 NDAA, a total of $21.9 million is now available to lease the additional 142 hectares on the north side of Tinian airport needed for the divert project. The decision to site the divert field and support facilities on Tinian was made last December with the approval of Tinian leadership and Governor Torres and my support.

Palau agreement approved

After a seven-year wait, the agreement to extend Palau’s Compact of Free Association through 2024 was formally approved when the conference report was enacted into law. I have been an outspoken proponent of the strategic importance of Palau to the United States and of the need to keep America’s commitment to this trusted ally. In April, my bill to extend the Compact, H.R. 2085, passed the House Natural Resources Committee unanimously; and the extension of the Compact has now been included in the NDAA.

$125K agricultural grant for NMC

Congratulations to Northern Marianas College on receiving a $124,827 grant from the U.S. Department Agriculture to begin offering distance learning courses in food and agricultural science.  The funds from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture will allow NMC students to  begin studies in these areas in the fall of 2018.  NMC President Dr. Carmen Fernandez said that the college “... has been working to grow the number of courses that can be accessed from home or from any other place with internet connectivity”.  By expanding online courses to food and agricultural sciences, NMC can provide wider educational opportunities to its students and may spark interest in future career-related studies. The grants are made to strengthen agricultural education in the insular areas, in the hope that more students will pursue food and agricultural science careers, and help educational institutions meet their unique needs.

Citizenship application now online

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that eligible individuals may now file applications for naturalization (Form N-400) through the USCIS website. Online applicants will be able to receive alerts and be prompted to upload required evidence based on their answers to form questions. Among the advantages to online filing are applicants can pay fees, upload evidence, get real-time case information, and communicate with USCIS. Those applying for citizenship based on military service, who are requesting a fee waiver or reduced fees, or are outside the U.S. are ineligible to file the N-400 online. To create a USCIS account to file the N-400, Application for Naturalization, go to https://myaccount.uscis.dhs.gov/.

Opportunities

Grants

Jobs

Legislative Highlights

THIS WEEK

On the Floor

  • H.R. 2396 – Privacy Notification Technical Clarification Act (Passed, 275-146)
  • H.R. 4324 – Strengthening Oversight of Iran's Access to Finance Act (Passed, 252-167)
  • H.R. 1638 – Iranian Leadership Asset Transparency Act (Passed, 289-135)
  • H.R. 3971 – Community Institution Mortgage Relief Act of 2017 (Passed, 294-129)
  • H.Res. 336 – Reaffirming a strong commitment to the United States-Mexico Partnership (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.Res. 357 – Reaffirming the strategic partnership between the United States and Canada, recognizing bilateral cooperation that advances United States national interests, and urging increased bilateral cooperation on security, economic issues, and energy, and for other purposes (Agreed to by voice vote)

Legislation I Cosponsored

  • H.R.1528 – Native American Indian Education Act
  • H.R.4610 – Receiving Electronic Statements To Improve Retiree Earnings Act

NEXT WEEK

On the Floor

  • Conference Report to Accompany H.R. 1 – Tax Cuts and Jobs Act
  • H.J.Res. 124 – Making further additional continuing appropriations for fiscal year 2018, and for other purposes
  • H.R. 3312 – Systemic Risk Designation Improvement Act of 2017
  • Senate Amendment to H.R. 1370 – Department of Homeland Security Blue Campaign Authorization Act of 2017
  • H.R. 3759 – RAISE Family Caregivers Act
  • H.R. 3979 – Keep America’s Refuges Operational Act
  • H.R. 4375 – STEM Research and Education Effectiveness and Transparency Act
  • H.R. 4254 – Women in Aerospace Education Act
  • H.R. 4323 – Supporting Veterans in STEM Careers Act
  • S. 1393 – Jobs for Our Heroes Act
  • S. 1536 – Combating Human Trafficking in Commercial Vehicles Act
  • S. 1532 – No Human Trafficking on Our Roads Act
  • H.Con.Res. 95 – Expressing support for the use of public-private partnerships to bring computer science education to more K-12 classrooms

Committee Hearings

Tuesday, December 19

  • House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Legislative Markup on H.R. 4242, VA Care in the Community Act

Wednesday, December 20

House Committee on Education and the Workforce Hearing on "Examining the Policies and Priorities of the U.S. Department of Education" with the Honorable Betsy DeVos, Secretary, U.S. Department of Education