By INu staff
INU - Debate officially began on the floor of the Senate on Thursday as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and bill author Bob Corker began the process of reviewing and voting upon the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 (INARA). Senator Corker’s bill and his statements promoting it have expressed the severe skepticism about President Obama’s Iran strategy that has been predominant among congresspersons on both sides of the aisle, especially in the Republican Party.
“Without this bill, there is nothing stopping the president from bypassing the American people, immediately waiving sanctions imposed by Congress and unilaterally implementing an agreement with Iran. This legislation ensures the president will submit an agreement to Congress for review and a vote,” he said, according to the Chattanoogan.
This fear of the possible content of a bill that passes without oversight is the reason why so many members of Congress have attached an extreme sense of importance to this bill, occasionally attempting to fast-track it or at least presenting it as a majority priority amidst congressional business. The Senate will vote on possible amendments to the bill on Tuesday, and the legislative body’s leadership has declared that it expects to conclude the process of voting before Congress enters a one-week recess in May.
If this comes to pass, Congressional oversight will be virtually guaranteed for nearly two months before negotiators from Iran and the P5+1 are scheduled to conclude a final agreement to trade restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program for the removal of crippling economic sanctions. As talks on that issue resumed in Vienna on Wednesday, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi demanded that the Americans “explain” the implications of the INARA, adding that congressional oversight could have “negative consequences” for the diplomatic process.
But at the same time that oversight could complicate talks, partisan differences of opinion could still complicate the process of passing INARA by May. Although mutual fear of a weak Iran nuclear deal has prompted rare bipartisan agreement on this piece of legislation, not everyone is content with a bill that is acceptable to the majority of both parties.
Tom Cotton, the freshman Senator who authored a bill last month telling Tehran that Congress and a future president could simply overturn any nuclear deal, is among those Senators who are pushing for a much more aggressive and demanding congressional oversight bill. Possible amendments to the existing bill would raise the number of legislators who would have to sign off on a deal, and would impose a variety of conditions not directly related to the nuclear issue, including the end of Iran’s support for terrorism and the recognition of Israel’s right to exist.
The current bill reflects very modest compromises on the language originally drafted by Senator Corker. It reduces the mandatory congressional review period from 60 days to 30 days and removes the terrorism provision that Cotton and others are striving to put back in. But these changes preserve the overall goal of giving Congress a distinct role in the process, and they also helped to secure enough defined Democratic support for the bill that President Obama was apparently forced to withdraw his promise to veto it.
Huffington Post quoted Republican Senator Lindsey Graham as privileging the importance of the bill over the issue of desire to bring it in line with the entirety of Republican preferences. “I do believe that the bill as drafted is sound,” Graham said. “To the critics of the bill, most of you haven’t lifted a finger to solve this problem. Most of you haven’t met with one Democrat, so don’t parachute in here at the end with an idea that will destroy what I think is one of the most important pieces of legislation that I’ll ever deal with.”
There is little doubt that the Senate as a whole wants a bill that first and foremost guarantees enough restraints on the Iranian nuclear program to keep the country at least a year away from breaking out to a nuclear weapon. This desire is shared by the Senates constituency and also by lower levels of government, but support is less defined when additional concerns are mixed into the debate over Iran and nuclear weapons.
CBS Local reported on Thursday that the Florida state Senate had voted to send a message to President Obama insisting that they want to see more sanctions imposed on Iran if the regime will not agree to a deal that eliminates its pathway to a nuclear weapon. The US Congress has also written legislation outlining new sanctions to be imposed in just such a case, but Democrats agreed to table that legislation to give the president an opportunity to conclude the process. But the bill remains ready to be enacted in the event that congressional oversight prevents the emerging bill from going into effect.