OVERNIGHT TECH: Smith blames Dems for defeat of visa bill

THE LEDE: House Democrats blocked Rep. Lamar Smith’s (R-Texas) high-skilled immigration bill from passing the lower chamber on Thursday. 

Although Republicans won a majority vote, the bill was voted on under suspension of the rules and failed to secure the two-thirds support needed to pass the House. In the end, Smith’s STEM Jobs Act was voted down by a 257-158 tally, with 30 Democrats breaking from their caucus and voting with Republicans. 

{mosads}After the vote, Smith released a statement saying Democrats voted against jobs and the economy by opposing his bill.

“Unfortunately, Democrats today voted to send the best and brightest foreign graduates back home to work for our global competitors,” Smith said. “Their vote against this bill is a vote against economic growth and job creation.”

The STEM Jobs would have reallocated 55,000 green cards to foreign-born graduates with advanced science, math, tech and engineering (STEM) degrees from U.S. universities by eliminating the diversity visa program. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) had introduced a competing measure last week that was similar to Smith’s but kept the diversity visa program in place.

“It’s important we didn’t do a mistake, which is what this bill was,” Lofgren told reporters following the vote. “It’s disappointing because we could come together and do something we all want to accomplish, which is to get more STEM visas.”

“I think we’re really well positioned to move forward if we can get the other side to actually sit down and work these things out, so in a way I’m optimistic if anything else,” she said. 

Smith had moved forward with the bill after discussions with the Senate fell apart before the August recess. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who had been involved in those talks, introduced a bill this week that was similar to Smith’s. But like Lofgren’s measure, Schumer’s version maintained the diversity visa program.  

“Given this failed vote in the House, we urge Chairman Smith to return to the negotiating table. A bipartisan compromise can easily be ready for the lame duck session,” Schumer said in a statement following the vote. “There is too broad a consensus in favor of this policy to settle for gridlock.”

Trade groups that represent major high-tech companies had unleashed an all-out lobbying push for Smith’s bill this week, sending numerous letters of support to the Hill. 

Gary Shapiro, the chief executive of the Consumer Electronics Association, said in a statement that he was disappointed Democrats had voted against the measure and called on the two parties to work out an agreement on STEM visas.

“The empirical fact is that more immigrants with advanced degrees mean more jobs for all Americans,” Shapiro said. “We urge both parties to put the promise of their platforms into action and forge a deal to keep the best and the brightest in America.”

House to probe LightSquared: The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subpanel on Oversight will hold a Friday hearing to examine the Federal Communications Commission’s review of bankrupt wireless firm LightSquared.

The FCC granted LightSquared a conditional waiver to move forward with a nationwide 4G wireless network in 2011, but the agency moved to block the network earlier this year after tests showed it would interfere with critical GPS devices, including those used by airplane pilots.

Republicans have questioned why the FCC allowed LightSquared to get as far as it did in the regulatory process.

The hearing, titled “The LightSquared network: An investigation of the FCC’s role” will examine whether the FCC followed its own policies, procedures and precedents.

The witnesses will be Julius Knapp, chief of the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology, and Mindel De La Torre, chief of the International Bureau.

Senate Judiciary approves antitrust pick: The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved the nomination of William Joseph Baer to head the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.

The vote was 11 to 6 and fell mostly along party lines. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) was the only Republican to vote yes, and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) voted pass. 

The nomination now moves to the Senate floor.

EU not satisfied yet with Google: Joaquín Almunia, the head of competition policy at European Commission, said Thursday that his agency has not yet ruled out filing a formal complaint against Google.

Speaking at Fordham University in New York, Almunia acknowledged that Google has offered to change its business practices in four areas of concern.  

“If effective solutions were found quickly and tested successfully, competition could be restored at an early stage by means of a commitment decision,” he said, according to a copy of his remarks. “However, we are not there yet, and it must be clear that — in the absence of satisfactory proposals in the short term — I will be obliged to continue with our formal proceedings.”

Proposal to require warrant for email snooping advances in Senate: The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday unanimously adopted an amendment that would require police to obtain a warrant before reading people’s emails.

Although the committee approved the substitute amendment, which was offered by Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the senators did not vote on whether to send the legislation to the floor.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member, voiced concern about hampering police investigations.

He said he is “fine” with the underlying bill on video privacy regulations, but he said he had “serious concerns” with Leahy’s substitute amendment.

“This increased burden on law enforcement creates a major obstacle to federal, state, and local criminal investigations, especially in cases where time is of the essence,” Grassley said.

Cleaver calls visa bill ‘a political talking point’: Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) on Thursday called a high-skilled immigration bill largely backed by House Republicans a “messaging bill.”

Electric grid regulator creates cybersecurity office: The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) established a division to mitigate cyber threats on the electric grid Thursday, but noted it still lacks many of the enforcement capabilities it needs from Congress.

Italy and Switzerland added to anti-piracy watch list: The Congressional International Anti-Piracy Caucus on Thursday named China, Russia, Italy, Switzerland and Ukraine to its annual watch list of countries that need to step up their enforcement of intellectual property rights. 

This is the first year Italy and Switzerland have appeared on the list. The Anti-Piracy Caucus said both countries lack adequate laws that crack down on online piracy and protect copyrighted movies, music and other content from being offered on illegitimate websites. 

Senators accuse companies of ducking taxes: Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard used offshore tax havens and other strategies to avoid billions of dollars in taxes, according to a Senate memo released Thursday.

Tags Charles Schumer Chuck Grassley Jeff Sessions Mike Lee Patrick Leahy
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