Senators strive to simplify the federal student loans process

WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) – Senators met Thursday to evaluate ways to improve and simplify student loans for higher education.

The Senate Committee on Health, Education Labor & Pensions met to specifically address the Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act. The act was first signed into law in 1965 by Lyndon B. Johnson and required providing federal assistance for students pursuing post-secondary and higher education.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) “manages the student financial assistance programs authorized under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965,” according to their website.

However, for years lawmakers and politicians from both sides of the aisle have sharply criticized the need to simplify the application process and provide transparency for the system in place.

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Lawmakers demand answers from Boeing, SpaceX over delays in space program

WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group)- Lawmakers on Capitol Hill gathered Wednesday to evaluate the progress National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Boeing and SpaceX have made in developing a spacecraft to carry astronauts to the International Space Station and beyond.

Since the end of NASA’s shuttle program in 2011, the space agency has sent their astronauts to the ISS via Russian Soyuz rockets. The price tag for a round-trip ticket per astronaut is more than $80 million, according to a Government Accountability Office Report. However, the contract with the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscocosmos) may lead to a gap in presence of United States astronauts on the ISS.

“NASA’s contract with Roscosmos permits it to delay the use of the final seat by up to 6 months to late spring 2019, with a return flight approximately 6 months later. NASA has not yet developed a contingency plan to ensure an uninterrupted presence on the ISS should the Commercial Crew Program experience further delays,” the report stated.

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee’s Subcommittee on Space invited witnesses from Boeing Space Exploration, NASA, SpaceX and the U.S. Government Accountability Office to Wednesday’s hearing. This was the subcommittee’s second hearing in three months to follow up on projects devoted to the future of human spaceflight. In Nov. 2017, the subcommittee met and discussed the Space Launch System (SLS), the Orion crew vehicle, and improvements to ground infrastructure for those projects.

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Senators re-evaluate how to achieve democracy in Syria

WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) – The Senate Foreign Relations Committee met Thursday to evaluate the United States’ approach to policy in Syria.

In April 2017, President Donald Trump launched a military strike on a Syrian government air base in response to a chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of civilians — including young children. Before then, airstrikes in the region were targeted primarily toward the Islamic State group and not Syrian Government. The Islamic State group’s presence in Syria had diminished by the end of 2017.

The United States along with Russia and Jordan signed a memorandum of principles in Nov. 2017 to maintain administrative arrangements in opposition areas, primarily the southwestern portion of the country.

The committee met Thursday to discuss how the U.S. can continue to help in securing the region from terrorist groups and help the Syrian people establish a fair and democratic process for governing.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R- Tenn., blamed President Bashar Assad’s regime for its involvement in the country’s ongoing unrest and instability.

“More than 12 million people, roughly half of all Syrians are displaced and the Assad regime bears overwhelming responsibility for this destruction and extremism it has spawned,” Corker said. With the support of the U.S. and collation partners, the Syria democratic forces succeeded in sweeping ISIS out of the capital of Raqqa in October.”

The chairman said that while the territory was lost in Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State group is still a major threat to the regional stability.

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Congress takes deeper look at enforcing sanctions

WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) – Members of the House Foreign Affair Committee met Wednesday to discuss the enforcement of United States sanctions.

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) administers and enforces economic and trade sanctions safeguarding the U.S. against foreign countries, regimes, terrorists and other entities engaged in malicious activity.

The hearing focused primarily on sanctions on North Korea, Russia and Iran. Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R- Calif., said that the committee would use Wednesday’s hearing to explore if sanctions enacted by Congress have been fully implemented to the best of their ability.

“We’ve used America’s economic might to help stop terrorists, counter Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programs, and respond to Russian aggression and the degradation of democracy in Venezuela,” Royce said. “No matter how tough the language of our sanctions bills, they are only as strong as their enforcement. That’s why we must work together to ensure the Executive Branch not only has the political will, but also the growing resources and expertise needed to implement strong sanctions.”

The chairman brought to the committee’s attention the fast-approaching deadline for the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. The legislation imposed sanctions on North Korea, Russia and Iran. Royce said the committee expects key elements of the act to be met by the end of January 2018.

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Lawmakers investigate mysterious attacks on US diplomats in Cuba

WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) – Lawmakers on Capitol Hill met Tuesday to further investigate the attacks on United States diplomats and their families in Cuba.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women’s Issues met to evaluate oversight and response about the attacks in Cuba that may have begun as early as November 2016.

Under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations established in 1961, diplomats are provided certain protections when posted within a receiving, or host, country.

“The person of a diplomatic agent shall be inviolable. He shall not be liable to any form of arrest or detention. The receiving State shall treat him with due respect and shall take all appropriate steps to prevent any attack on his person, freedom or dignity,” the documents stated.

The agreement also covers the space in which the diplomat lives.

“The private residence of a diplomatic agent shall enjoy the same inviolability and protection as the premises of the mission,” the accord states.

According to State Department officials, the first reports of strange sounds began in late 2016 — possibly as early as November. By mid-February 2017, there was a pattern of similar symptoms in reported incidents. U.S. government officials asked Cuba to adhere to the Vienna Convention and provide protection to diplomats in Cuba. The Cuban government denied any involvement and opened a separate investigation into the incidents.

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5 things Congress needs to confront in 2018

WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) – Congress will face several key legislative deadlines when they return from holiday break.

The items on Congress’s to-do list include government funding, Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) and disaster funding. The most pressing will be funding the government in order to avoid a government shutdown Jan. 19.

1. Short-term spending bill

The current short-term spending bill expires Jan. 19. Congress passed a continuing resolution Dec. 21, 2017 to keep the government funded into the New Year. The Congress uses “congressional resolution” to buy more time to address key legislative functions.

A congressional resolution is “legislation in the form of a joint resolution [requires approval of both chambers] enacted by Congress, when the new fiscal year is about to begin or has begun, to provide budget authority for federal agencies and programs to continue in operation until the regular appropriations acts are enacted, according to the Senate glossary.

However, when the Congress returns, they will have about two weeks to pass a bipartisan bill and avoid a government shutdown.

2. Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)

The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) will receive funding through the end of March 2018. CHIP was signed into law in 1997 and is jointly funded by both the federal government and individual states.

In 2016, approximately 9 million people were enrolled in the program, according to the annual enrollment report on Medicaid.gov.

The program “provides low-cost health coverage to children in families provides low-cost health coverage to children in families that earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid. In some states, CHIP covers pregnant women. Each state offers CHIP coverage, and works closely with its state Medicaid program,” according to HeathCare.gov.

The website also says that CHIP covers “routine checkups, immunizations, doctor visits, prescriptions, dental and vision care, inpatient and outpatient hospital care, laboratory and X-ray services and emergency services.”

State health departments have already begun to notify families that funding could expire for the program in March.

Jimmy Kimmel gave an emotional opening statement on his show calling for support of the program.

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