Iran sanctions bill clears House, possible delay in Senate

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

Jewish groups are lauding yesterday’s House passage of the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, which will impose economic penalties on companies that help Iran get the refined products it can’t produce itself.

But the House vote was never really in doubt; for months, the only question was when Foreign Affairs chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.) would bring it up.

Capitol Hill sources say the overwhelming 412-12 vote was the result of lobbying by a range of groups – led by AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby giant, but also including a coalition of evangelical Christian organizations  and a broad spectrum of other Jewish groups.

Also involved in a last-minute lobbying blitz: J Street, the pro-peace process lobby and political action committee, which only last week called for immediate passage of the sanctions legislation.

J Street, several Capitol Hill sources said, played a significant role in the surprisingly strong support from House progressives, including Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Rep. Betty McCullom (D-Minn.)

Things won’t be as easy in the Senate.

The Obama administration wasn’t unhappy with the House action because it hopes the increasing threat of unilateral sanctions will get the Iranians to do what they’ve refused to do in the past: get serious about negotiating over their controversial nuclear weapons program.  And administration officials are hoping the prospect of unilateral US sanctions will get the UN Security Council to move on international sanctions.

But the White House  has requested a delay in Senate action until early next year to give those efforts more time to work and until it can work out some compromises on language with the bill’s sponsors.  But  several key lawmakers,  led by Sen. John Kyl (R-Ariz.), will push for immediate action.

With 80 cosponsors, Senate passage isn’t in doubt, just the timing – and whether there will be changes in a presidential waiver provision and during the House-Senate conference.

A long list of Jewish organizations quickly issued press releases praising yesterday’s House action. None of them addressed the question of how, exactly, unilateral sanctions will turn around an Iranian regime that seems indifferent to the impact of sanctions on the people of their country – and which has proved adept at sidestepping sanctions for more than a decade, anyway.

But it’s a start, is the unspoken part of their laudatory press releases.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.