12/04/2012 03:41 pm ET Updated Dec 04, 2012

John Cornyn: STEM Bill Should Go For Senate Vote This Year

WASHINGTON -- Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said Tuesday that the Senate should move immediately on a House Republican bill to provide more visas for foreign graduates who earn advanced degrees in the United States, even with opposition from the Democratic majority and the White House.

"This is one area where we can demonstrate that we're willing to move forward on immigration reform," Cornyn told reporters at a press conference. "Hopefully it will be a confidence builder that will see other common sense immigration proposals follow along."

The House passed the STEM Jobs Act last week in a 245 to 139 vote, with most Democrats voting in opposition. The bill would provide 55,000 additional visas for foreign nationals who earn master's degrees or Ph.Ds in science, technology, engineering or mathematics, called STEM degrees for short.

There is a consensus that those graduates should be provided visas, but the parties differ over when and how it should be done. The Obama administration announced last week that although it supports STEM legislation, it "does not support narrowly tailored proposals that do not meet the President's long-term objectives with respect to comprehensive immigration reform."

The office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) confirmed later Tuesday that he has no plans to bring up the bill.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who is working on a comprehensive immigration plan with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), told HuffPost Tuesday he doesn't much care whether reform is done piece-by-piece or in a broader bill. But the STEM bill doesn't necessarily need to be an immediate part of that, he said.

"You've got the Dream Act, you've got the STEM bill, those don't get you to where you want to go," Graham said. "Those should be part of an overall solution."

The STEM bill is the first major piece of immigration legislation since the November elections, which boosted interest in reform from members of both parties. President Barack Obama, Reid and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) have all called for comprehensive immigration reform.

For Boehner especially, the STEM bill indicates the difficulty of such a broader measure passing through the Republican-controlled House, which seems more inclined to do piece-by-piece legislation on the issue.

"We need to break up the elephant into bite-size pieces," Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who voted for the STEM bill, told reporters Friday after a post-vote press conference. "I want to break this up into passable bill by passable bill."

Graham told HuffPost he was fine with that philosophy in general, so long as immigration reform is completed.

"You can never fix the problem if you don't deal with every component of it," he said. "If you want to do it in a phased-on fashion, have triggers, I'm open-minded, I'm just not open-minded to putting off the hard decisions."

This article has been updated with response from Reid's office.



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