The Iran sanctions legislation that President Obama recently signed into law has been hailed as “crippling,” “tough,” “sweeping,” and “expanded.” Yet none of these descriptions apply if the sanctions themselves are never enforced.
As one of the House members appointed to the Iran Sanctions Conference Committee, I agree that the penalties in the recently passed bill are stronger than the ones in current law. For example, it provides for sanctions against those who commit egregious human rights violations against the Iranian people.
The improvements, however, are only theoretical – they represent the illusion of success. The final bill depends on President Obama’s willingness to implement sanctions, and to do so quickly.
Unfortunately, I have my doubts about the president’s readiness to enforce sanctions on Iran. The historical record speaks pretty clearly. In 1996, Congress passed the original Iran sanctions legislation. Yet for the past 14 years, not one U.S. president has imposed sanctions – even though each of them had the authority and a mandate from Congress.
Rather than requiring the president to implement sanctions, the new legislation allows him to invoke one of at least seven separate waivers. For example, the president could choose not to enforce sanctions against BP, since BP is based in a “cooperating country” – one that voted for the U.N. Iran Sanctions resolution. The result is that the president is granted even more discretion to avoid enforcing sanctions.
Of course, many Democrats have attempted to reassure me. They say that they will now pressure the president to implement the sanctions outlined in this legislation. But I’ve been hearing the same claim for the past 16 months. The original Iran sanctions legislation has been in effect since before President Obama took office.
I have been told that the president’s attempts to engage the United Nations regarding Iran would produce great diplomatic gains. Yet the recently passed U.N. security resolution was hardly a game-changer. Can we justify the 18-month lapse we’ve already given to President Obama?
This brings me to my second concern. Not only does President Obama have leeway in choosing whether or not to impose sanctions, but he is also allowed to delay the investigation process. Some of the waivers allow the president to investigate a company for up to 12 months. Then the president may decide to issue a six-month waiver.
We no longer have the luxury of time. We cannot afford further delay. Iran is on the precipice of becoming a nuclear power.
Many of my constituents, especially those in the Jewish community, have asked, “How did all of this happen? Why did Congress pass a bill that is weaker than the one originally passed by the House last December and the one passed by the House in 2007?”
Those are completely valid questions and I share the frustrations of many who wanted a tougher bill. Despite apparent broad bipartisan agreement for a strong bill at the beginning of the Iran sanctions conference, the administration convinced my Democrat colleagues to water down the final legislation.
After our first (and only) conference meeting, in which members pledged to work together to pass tough sanctions, we never met again. I heard nothing more until my staff received an e-mail at 2:42 p.m. on June 23. The e-mail simply read: “Attached please find a final text of the conference reportâ€¦. Signature sheet will be available from 3-4 o’clock today.”
Republicans were allowed zero chances to offer amendments, zero up or down votes on any section of the report, and zero chances to revise the draft conference report.
These actions clearly show that the majority never intended to be held accountable for weakening the original legislation. They never wanted to give members an opportunity to oppose the demands of the White House. They never desired transparency and openness so that the American public could examine the true positions of their elected leaders.
We all know that the president of Iran has called Zionists “the true manifestation of Satan.” We also know that he has said that since the United States recognizes Israel, it will “burn in the fire of the Islamic nation’s fury.”
If we truly agree that sanctions are the best non-violent deterrent, and if we agree that Iran is as little as a year away from obtaining nuclear weapon capabilities, this legislation should not have granted the president so many waiver options and so much time to act.
In the end, an opportunity for a real step forward was missed. Will the president act? For the sake of the free world, I certainly hope so.