One Day - 12 Visits

Washington, D.C. -- On December 10, 2015 Frank J. Spula, the President of the Polish American Congress and Anthony J. Bajdek, Vice President for American Affairs, traveled to Washington, DC for a full day of scheduled meetings on Capitol Hill. Dr. Barbara Andersen, PAC Washington National Office Executive Director, accompanied the two PAC officers during visits to 12 U.S. Senators from ten states.

The legislators, representing states in which the PAC has a State Division, included in order of scheduled times Senators Kelly Ayotte (NH), Daniel Coats (IN), Tim Kaine (VA), Benjamin Cardin (MD), Ron Johnson (WI), Thomas Carper (DE), Debbie Stabenow (MI), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Diane Feinstein (CA), Joe Donnelly (IN), Mark Kirk (IL), and Richard Durbin (IL).

The timing of the visits, although set weeks in advance, proved to be of key importance for the issues that were discussed, among those being the inclusion of Poland into the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (WVP) – an issue of key interest and an ongoing effort for the Polish American Congress.

As it happened on the day before, December 9, the United States House of Representatives adopted, with overwhelming support (by a vote of 407 to 19), the bill H.R. 158, the “Visa Waiver Program Improvement Act of 2015” submitted by Michigan Representative Candice Miller. The bill introduced several security provisions making the Visa Waiver Program more secure while at the same time leaving no room for further expansion of the Program, and consequently, the inclusion of Poland. It is important to note, however, that Poland even though not a member of the Program, already meets the outlined security measures.

At the time of the December 10 visits, the course of action in the United States Senate was yet to be decided which again emphasized the importance of those day-long visits and ongoing discussion on the issue. During those discussions, several options were considered, including:

  1. Adoption of one of the Senate bills similar to H.R. 158, such as S. 2337, the "Visa Waiver Program Security Enhancement Act" introduced by Senators Feinstein (CA) and Flake (AZ) or S. 2362, “Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015” introduced by Sen. Johnson (WI);
  2. Development of another bill comparable to H.R. 158; or
  3. Inserting the language of H.R. 158 in its entirety into the "omnibus" bill – an action that in fact happened the following week.

Each option was addressed by the PAC delegation who urged the legislators to support Poland’s membership in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, whichever legislative option is adopted.

Overall, the twelve visits proved some very important points: not only did they demonstrate an ongoing active interest of the Polish American community on both state and national levels in the VWP issue but also provided an opportunity to further educate key legislators on this important matter. Face-to-face, regular, and professionally conducted contacts with elected officials are considered a key factor in any successful advocacy.

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