|Despite Stalled Congress, Measures Important to Arts Community Advance|
With the first session of the 113th Congress more than midway through its term, I thought it would be useful to reflect on the year to date.
In many respects, the 113th Congress began much like the 112th concluded: with members of Congress from both parties frustrated by the lack of progress on key initiatives. Members of the House and Senate were unable to reach a compromise to prevent or mitigate sequestration, which cut the federal budget by about $85 billion for fiscal year 2013. Since that time, the Democrat-controlled Senate and Republican-controlled House have continued to fight over fiscal policy. As a result, with fewer than three months remaining in the fiscal year, work on FY2014 appropriations bills has stalled, and it appears that once again Congress will be forced to be pass a continuing resolution to keep the government operating beyond September 30.
While the inaction of the federal legislature has been disappointing, June was an unusually productive month in the Senate, as the chambers took significant action on two high-profile issues. On June 29, the Senate passed by a vote of 68-32 legislation overhauling the nation’s immigration laws. While the legislation is most widely known for its plan to create a pathway to citizenship for nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States, it also includes an important change to federal law long sought by NASAA and other arts advocates.
This provision addresses a shortcoming in current law that can result in long and unpredictable wait times for artists seeking O and P visas to perform in the United States. While current law requires the processing of applications within 14 days, lax enforcement often results in delays, in some cases as long as six months. This uncertainty has a devastating impact on performers and arts organizations throughout the country that need a reliable visa system in order to plan, promote and present performances. The Senate’s immigration bill addresses this issue by requiring the Department of Homeland Security to provide expedited processing (without charging the nonprofit organization sponsoring the visa) should the 14-day waiting period be surpassed.
NASAA, along with our colleagues in the arts producing and presenting fields, has long supported this legislative correction to the nation’s immigration law, and worked diligently for its inclusion in the legislation. With the Senate having approved the bill, the House will now consider immigration reform. It is not clear at this time, however, whether Republican leaders there will consider the Senate bill or develop their own proposal.
While the Senate was working on immigration reform, it also took steps to advance legislation reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The primary source of federal funding for K-12 public education, ESEA has not been reauthorized since 2007.
On June 11 and 12, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee held a hearing to consider the Senate bill, known as S. 1094, the Strengthening America’s Schools Act, which was introduced by Chairman Tom Harkin. The bill, which has only Democratic support and passed on a party-line vote in committee, contains several provisions important to the arts community, including:
While the Senate was able to pass immigration reform, the pathway for the Strengthening America’s Schools Act is less clear. Senate rules require the support of at least 60 members to overcome a filibuster, which is almost certain to occur given the complexity and breadth of the bill. With Democrats holding only 55 seats, at least five Republicans will need to support the measure for it to advance. Since the bill received no Republican support in committee, the chances of the legislation getting 60 votes without considerable changes made on the Senate floor is unlikely.
NASAA will continue to monitor the bill closely and will urge the House to adopt similar provisions as it considers its own bill reauthorizing ESEA.