Feb. 26 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. Senate Republicans are trying to force Democrats to allow a vote on added Iran sanctions that are opposed by President Barack Obama.
While Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, has blocked floor consideration of Iran legislation, the Republican strategy is to keep the issue alive by trying to attach it to measures widely supported by Democrats. Their latest target: a comprehensive veterans’ benefits bill.
“There is no excuse for muzzling the Congress on an issue of this importance to our own national security,” Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said on the Senate floor today.
Reid called the Republicans’ maneuver an effort to stall and “obstruct.”
Obama has said he would veto any sanctions legislation, saying it could jeopardize talks with Iran over its nuclear program. The U.S. and other countries have entered into a six-month agreement with Iran, due to end in July, during which the Islamic Republic has agreed to freeze some of its nuclear program in return for relief from some sanctions and release of some frozen assets.
Iran has threatened to abandon talks toward a permanent accord if Congress votes to tighten economic restrictions.
McConnell said continuing talks with Iran shouldn’t preclude Congress from acting.
“It puts teeth into the talks that are already taking place,” he said. “We should send the message that you can’t just keep talking forever -- something happens at the end of the interim period.”
Earlier this week, Republicans objected to consideration of bills dealing with sexual assault in the military, S. 1917 and S. 1752. They said floor time for those bills should include debate on Iran sanctions.
As a result, consideration of the military assault bills won’t happen for another few weeks.
On the veteran’s bill, S. 1982, Senate Republicans have included the sanctions in a substitute amendment offered by Richard Burr of North Carolina.
The language is similar to that of bipartisan legislation, S. 1881, sponsored by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, and Illinois Republican Mark Kirk. Menendez said he doesn’t support a vote on his measure at this time.
The Senate voted 99-0 yesterday to advance the veterans’ legislation and leaders were negotiating what amendments will be considered. The bill to renew benefits for veterans was written by Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who is chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Burr is that panel’s ranking Republican.
The Republican push on Iran sanctions comes just days before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the biggest pro-Israel lobbying group, opens its annual three-day policy conference in Washington on March 2.
While AIPAC has been critical of Iran, it has backed off from its earlier call for new sanctions.
In a Feb. 6 statement, AIPAC said it agreed with Menendez “that stopping the Iranian nuclear program should rest on bipartisan support and that there should not be a vote at this time on the measure.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has said he’s skeptical a deal with Iran would be stringent enough to stop it from developing nuclear weapons, is scheduled to speak on the closing day of the conference.
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