Iran Sanctions Back on Senate’s Agenda

New veterans bill sees sanctions amendment

Iranian Supreme Leader's Office, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei / AP
February 25, 2014

A new measure to level harsh sanctions on Iran reappeared in the Senate on Tuesday when Republicans proposed an amendment to a new bill aimed at replacing retirement benefits for veterans.

Bipartisan efforts to pass new sanctions in the Senate effectively died last month after the White House and its allies launched a full court press to kill the bill, which had garnered the backing of 59 senators.

However, the sanctions bill came back into play on Tuesday when Sens. Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) and Richard Burr (R., N.C.) revealed a new plan to restore federal benefits to veterans whose benefits had been cut in December.

The Burr plan is being offered as an alternative to a similar Democratic bill aimed at restoring and expanding veterans’ benefits. Republicans have balked at the bill due to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D., Nev.) efforts to stymie debate and stop the GOP from offering amendments.

The language in the Burr amendment is essentially the same as the bill originally proposed by Sens. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R., Ill.), according to a copy obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

Burr explained on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon that the Iran sanctions amendment belongs in the veterans bill due to its widespread support—and to counter Reid’s bid to shut down debate on the widely supported measures.

"I think we've had four votes on Republican amendments since July," Burr said. "And to suggest that Iran's not important is in fact a blind eye on the world."

"I have in my bill a piece of legislation that’s cosponsored by 59 senators, bipartisan, the Iran sanctions bill," he said. "Why? Because it's the only way we can get this to the floor, because we're denied any other attempt to do it. This is something that's important to the American [people], it's important to our friends and our allies around the world. And I'm sure it will dominate part of the debate."

McConnell, the Senate minority leader, also criticized Reid for his efforts to silence the Republican minority on issues such as veterans’ benefits and Iran.

"Let me just say we've been trying for months to get a debate and a vote on the … Iran sanctions bill" offered by Sens. Menendez and Kirk, he said. "That will be a part of the Burr alternative. And we'll be discussing at length on the floor why we should go forward with that legislation and why we ought to get a vote on it because this is a very time-sensitive matter."

Reid played a key role in killing the Kirk-Menendez bill last month.

As majority leader, Reid has unilateral control over deciding which measures come to the floor for a vote. Under pressure from the White House, Reid never permitted the Iran sanctions bill to see an up-or-down vote.

McConnell lashed out at Reid at the time in comments made to the Free Beacon.

"Sen. Reid’s refusal to allow a vote on this important, commonsense proposal becomes harder to explain with each passing day," McConnell said. "It’s also a perfect illustration of how his unilateral approach to running the Senate doesn’t just prevent Republicans from pursuing legislation but Democrats too."

Most political observers and Capitol Hill insiders assumed the Kirk-Menendez bill would pass due to its widespread support.

Those close to the new sanctions amendment say that the veterans bill will be "a moment of truth for the Democratic Party."

"Do they stand with the democratically elected government of Israel or not?" asked one senior Senate aide close to the bill. "Republicans do. Republicans will not allow [President] Barack Obama to let Iran keep its nuclear infrastructure—it's a shame that Democrats would let party politics trump America and Israel's national security."

The White House declined to comment on the new sanctions amendment.

The new sanctions are being considered as the Obama administration begins to relax current regulations preventing business with Tehran.

Iran’s economy has been improving since the signing of an interim nuclear accord aimed at slowing portions of Iran’s nuclear program.

The Free Beacon reported on Tuesday that several Pentagon contractors with deals worth billions have begun exploring the Iranian marketplace, causing concern among lawmakers.