Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is bringing the Johnson-Shelby
Iran sanctions bill to the floor for a second time today in
an attempt to pass the bill by unanimous consent, without a formal vote.
Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Human Rights Act of 2012 is a new set of
sanctions that would punish any entity that provides Iran with equipment or
technology that facilitates censorship or the suppression of human rights,
including weapons, rubber bullets, tear gas, and other riot control equipment
-- as well as communications jamming, monitoring, and surveillance equipment.
It also calls on the Obama administration to develop a more robust Internet
freedom strategy for Iran and speed new
assistance to pro-democracy activists in the country.
The legislation, named for Senate Banking Committee heads Tim Johnson (D-SD)
and Richard Shelby (R-AL), would formally establish that U.S. policy is
intended to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and would require the
administration to report extensively and repeatedly on its efforts to increase
diplomatic and financial pressure on the Iranian regime.
In March, Reid attempted to pass the bill by unanimous consent, meaning that
the bill would pass without debate or vote if no senators objected. Reid said
there simply wasn't
enough time to debate the bill or consider amendments, such one by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) that would have added
even more sanctions to the legislation.
But Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) objected
to unanimous consent in March because he wanted to offer an amendment
explicitly stating that the bill does not authorize the use of military force
against Iran, forcing Reid to shelve the bill. Now, two months later, Reid has
come up with a strategy that he thinks will get the bill through the Senate
without an objection and to a conference committee, where it will be reconciled
with a similar bill passed by the House last December.
Reid, Johnson, and Shelby have been working on a "manager's package" to add to the Senate bill that would
address Paul's issue and incorporate the Kirk amendment (find the text and a
detailed summary here), but the Kirk language will be added as a
non-binding "sense of the senate," rather than as binding provisions of law.
The text of the latest version of the manager's
package, obtained by The Cable, can
be found here.
"They basically took the binding provisions of the Kirk amendment and significantly
reduced it to a ‘sense of Senate,' leaving out key details to get Senate Democrats and Republicans to
agree to move the bill forward for unanimous consent adoption," said Mark Dubowitz, executive director of
the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. "Senate Democrats were only
willing to let this language come in as a sense of the Senate and then defer to
the conference committee to negotiate."
The Kirk amendment contained new provisions that would impose sanctions against
any insurance company underwriting a sanctionable activity by the government of
Iran, extend sanctions to all Iranian financial institutions, declare the
Iranian telecom and technology sector a zone of electronic repression, sanction
any international company selling technology services to the Iranian regime
that could be used to censor the Internet or be used for repressive purposes,
and sanction satellite companies that are allowing the Iranian government to
jam international broadcasts such as Voice of America.
Three Senate aides told The Cable
that the Senate was expected to bring up and pass the bill on Thursday.
The Senate goes on another recess next week and a new round of international
discussions with Iran over its nuclear program begin on May 23 in Baghdad.
When the Congress does get back to work next month, the Senate bill will be
conferenced with the House's Iran Threat Reduction Act. That bill does not
contain the extra sanctions found in the Kirk amendment, but House leaders have
been introducing separate bills containing the Kirk sanctions as a show of
support for those measures.
House Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), joined
with Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) in April to introduce the Iran
Financial Sanctions Improvement Act, which contains many of the sanctions
measures that Kirk proposed. Other measures found in the Kirk amendment were
included by Reps. Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Robert Dold (R-FL) in a
bill they introduced in March called the Iranian Energy Sector and Proliferation Sanctions Act.
"While it's a good thing that the Senate is passing this ahead of Baghdad to
send a message of strengthening sanctions, this bill can still be significantly
strengthened," said Dubowitz. "My guess is the House will fight to have the
sense of Senate language changed into binding language that mirrors the
legislation that they have already introduced."
Reid's office is also circulating a May 17 letter
from AIPAC praising the manager's amendment and looking
forward to the House-Senate conference over the bill.
"In our view, this legislation has been further
strengthened in important ways by a manager's amendment that reflects the views
of a number of senators," AIPAC wrote to Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). "We believe
that [the Kirk]amendments fall within the scope of the conference committee and
urge you to ensure that they will be given appropriate consideration during the
course of the conference deliberations."
The Senate also is debating Thursday a non-binding
resolution to establish the sense of the Senate that containment of a nuclear
Iran is not an option, but that resolution is not expected to pass by unanimous
consent due to objections by Paul.
UPDATE: Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) objected to passing the bill by unanumous consent Thursday afternoon following a short floor debate during which he, along with Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) argued that the bill should include a mention that all options are on the table for confronting Iran's nuclear program, including the use of military force.
In floor remarks, Kyl said that negotiations would continue and perhaps the bill would be brought up for consideration again early next week
"There seems to be an important piece
missing and we certainly need the time to talk to folks to see why that's so,
whether it could be put back in or if it can't, then to be able to discuss it.
Because we certainly don't want something that's weaker than the
administration's current policy," he said. "So I would hope that we could just have some
time over the weekend and perhaps on Monday when enough of the members can be
apprised what has actually been proposed here and see if our colleagues on the
other side would be willing to make the accommodation that we may need to have