Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Lame Duck Session May Push Most Mideast-Related Issues to 114th Congress

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Lame Duck Session May Push Most Mideast-Related Issues to 114th Congress

Article excerpt

With the 113th Congress likely to adjourn its "lame duck" session by Dec. 17, it's not clear how many, if any, Middle-East related issues will be dealt with. One item of business that had to be dealt with was to pass legislation to keep the government funded beyond Dec. 11, when the "continuing resolution," passed in September that continues FY '15 appropriations for federal agencies at the FY '14 rate, was due to expire. Also, since the negotiations with Iran regarding its nuclear program have been extended for up to seven months, Congress has more time to try to pass new sanctions legislation or legislation setting impossible conditions. The ongoing military action against ISIS in Iraq and Syria might also be dealt with in some form.

Funding the Government Beyond Dec. 11

As reported in the previous issue, prior to its recess to work for re-election Congress passed H.J.Res. 124, providing continuing FY 2015 appropriations to federal agencies at the current annual rate. But that funding expires on Dec. 11, 2014, and new legislation had to be passed before then. Congressional leaders of both parties indicated that they preferred passing an "omnibus" appropriations bill funding the government through the end of FY '15, and concentrate on FY '16 appropriations in the 114th Congress.

The omnibus bill finally was introduced on Dec. 9, which did not leave enough time for both the House and Senate to consider and vote on it before the Dec. 11 deadline. So congressional leaders planned for a short-term continuing resolution to give enough time for the omnibus to be passed. As this issue of the Washington Report goes to press that has not yet happened, but there seems little doubt that it will.

The text of the bill is not yet available, but it reportedly funds 11 of the 12 appropriations bills through September 2015. The remaining bill, funding the Department of Homeland Security, is extended only through February 2015, to give the Republican-controlled 114th Congress time to pass legislation to overturn President Barack Obama's recent executive action regarding immigration.

The omnibus bill reportedly does include several "general" provisions. So it is likely that it includes provisions generally included in the Foreign Operations (foreign aid) bills regarding Iran and the usual problematic general provisions punishing the Palestinians for their refusal to knuckle under to Israeli domination. It also may not include Secretary of State John Kerry's pledge of $156 million to UNRWA for Gaza reconstruction efforts.

Iran Will Receive Congressional Attention, But Perhaps Little Action

The agreement to extend negotiations with Iran already has been criticized by many of Israel's congressional allies, and AIPAC predictably issued a statement criticizing the extension and urging Congress to pass additional sanctions legislation. It is widely known that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu opposes any reasonable agreement with Tehran, for fear that it might weaken the device used by petty tyrants and weak leaders for centuries-that of an external threat-to keep a restive population at bay. So he has marshalled his congressional minions to, first, work to scuttle the negotiations, or, alternatively, insist that any agreement include impossible conditions.

Regarding any future agreement, Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who is openly feuding with the White House over Iran policy, and Mark Kirk (R-IL) on Nov. 12 issued a "statement" that could have come directly from Netanyahu's office, laying out all of his impossible conditions. Among other things, the statement says that the authors "believe that a good deal will dismantle, not just stall, Iran's illicit nuclear program and prevent Iran from ever becoming a threshold nuclear weapons state," and that "gradual sanctions relaxation would only occur if Iran strictly complied with all parts of the agreement."

Several of Israel's members of Congress also raised the possibility of passing new Iran sanctions legislation during the lame duck session. …

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