Friday, September 26, 2008

Sanctions Suspense

The Dodd-Shelby Iran Sanctions bill is on the House Suspension Calendar as item number five for today, Friday, September 26, 2008. The bill was initially put on the Calendar yesterday, but the House did not have time to debate it. Representative Howard Berman (D-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and other supporters of the nuclear cooperation agreement between the U.S. and India, added a version of the Dodd-Shelby Iran sanctions and divestment bill (House bill text still not available) in order to garner more support to pass the India nuclear cooperation agreement approval. Hill sources initially said that Representative Berman planned to combine the Iran sanctions and India nuclear cooperation approval bills, but according to CQ Today, he will no longer do so after being pressed by the Bush administration to keep the issues separate.

The move is largely reminiscent of Santorum’s Last Stand. Some INW readers may recall a similar midnight hour effort (literally) to pass an Iran sanctions bill on September 30, 2006 before the mid-term elections. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) was able to spearhead a movement to pass the Iran Sanctions Act to give him one last legislative victory before facing off in a tough race against now Senator Bob Casey (D-PA). The difference between then and now is that the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) was about to expire and Congress had to do something to renew sanctions against Iran before they legally lapsed. The sanctions bill then was largely an extension of the 1996 ILSA, however, it appropriately dropped Libya sanctions.

Today’s story has a somewhat different twist. Instead of simply renewing, the bill that will likely be voted on Suspension today would impose much broader sanctions against Iran include enabling legislation for divestment efforts across the U.S. Unlike 2006, Iran sanctions are not pending lapse, yet Democrats and Republicans alike are using the Iran sanctions bill for their electioneering purposes yet again in the midnight hour before recessing to campaign. If the sanctions bill is voted on, Members of Congress will surely point to their co-sponsorship and vote as proof of being tough on Iran and tough on national security. And, Congress may be under even more pressure to do something given that the controversial H.Con.Res. 362 and S.Res. 580 are not likely to be taken up today or before the end of the legislative session.

What will happen remains to be seen. In order to become law, the Senate will also need to pass the bill and the President would then need to sign it. However, it would take just one Senator to block a unanimous consent agreement, which would be required to bring the bill up for a free-standing vote. The Dodd-Shelby sanctions bill was excluded from the Fiscal Year 2009 Defense Authorization bill, but it did have significant support in the Senate even from those like Senator John Warner (R-VA) who simply objected to its inclusion based on principle. With little time remaining, it is possible that the bill could be held up in the Senate. Hill sources said yesterday that it was conceivable that Finance Committee Chair Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) could add the combined India Nuclear Cooperation Agreement-Iran Sanctions bill to the $700 billion bailout package. However, that may be less likely now since Representative Berman has agreed to keep the measures separate and the House will vote on an India nuclear cooperation approval bill that is identical to the version already passed out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Stay tuned…

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