In a preview of the legislative drama to come when Congress returns from a two-week recess on Tuesday, Senate Armed Services Committee Chair John McCain (R-AZ) last week said Secretary of State John Kerry was “delusional” when it came to the early framework with Iran to limit Tehran’s development of a nuclear weapon.
The new Republican-led Congress left behind a pile of unfinished business before it departed last month. That work ranges from the next steps in writing the fiscal 2016 budget and spending bills to passing anti-human trafficking legislation to finally confirming a successor to Attorney General Eric Holder.
“There’s a full menu of options and of intensity that Congress is going to come back to,” Ron Bonjean, a Washington political consultant and former GOP congressional spokesperson, said in an interview. “There’s no question that partisanship is going to be running high, especially with the backdrop of Hillary Clinton’s announcement about entering the presidential race.”
Early in the new 114th session of Congress, the uproar over President Obama’s executive orders designed to protect millions of illegal immigrants from deportation dominated the debate. Now a looming showdown over a preliminary deal between the U.S. and Iran limiting that country’s nuclear program for the next 15 years has moved front and center as many Republicans want to sidetrack it.
Some in the GOP, including McCain, have even accused Kerry of intentionally misleading Congress and the American people about the terms of the agreement.
“I think you’re going to find out that they had never agreed to the things that John Kerry claimed that they had,” McCain told radio show host Hugh Hewitt last week. He added, “I think John Kerry tried to come back and sell a bill of goods, hoping maybe that the Iranians wouldn’t say much about it.”
The administration pushed back hard. On Saturday night at a press conference in Panama City, Panama, where he is attending the Summit of the Americas, Obama singled out the Arizona senator’s comments.
“When I hear some, like Sen. McCain recently, suggest that our Secretary of State, John Kerry, who served in the United States Senate, a Vietnam veteran, who's provided exemplary service to this nation, is somehow less trustworthy in the interpretation of what's in a political agreement than the Supreme Leader of Iran -- that's an indication of the degree to which partisanship has crossed all boundaries,” Obama said.
Kerry appeared on several Sunday morning political talk shows, and while he declined to address McCain’s comments personally, he pointed out that even Russia, not a strong U.S. ally these days, has said that the administration’s characterization of the state of talks with Iran is accurate.
There will be plenty of fireworks in the Capitol as Congress attempts to forge ahead with its agenda. Here are the seven most important pieces of business:
Iran Nuclear Deal: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday takes up a measure drafted by Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) giving Congress 60 days to review the final deal before Obama can begin lifting economic sanctions. The White House fears that measure could make it more difficult for the U.S. to complete negotiations by the end-of-June deadline. Nine Senate Democrats – including New York’s Chuck Schumer – are co-sponsoring Corker’s bill. A handful of others have expressed interest.
Related: GOP Presidential Aspirants Clash Over the Budget
Fiscal 2016 Budget: Senate Budget Committee Chair Mike Enzi (R-WY) and House Budget Chief Tom Price (R-GA) have begun closed-door talks to iron out differences between the House and Senate-passed versions of a new budget. The GOP blueprints would spend a lot more on defense, preserve tight caps on domestic programs and try to put the government on track to wipe out the deficit in 10 years. Democrats dismissed these plans as political posturing. They oppose GOP efforts to reduce spending by $5.5 trillion over the coming decade by overhauling key entitlement programs, including Medicare and Medicaid.
‘Doc-Fix’ Legislation: The Senate will consider a House-passed bill to remove the need for what’s become known as the “Doc Fix,” an annual measure to protect doctors from automatic reductions in Medicare reimbursements mandated by the 1997 Balanced Budget Act. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) support it and Obama promised to sign the bill if it reaches his desk. But Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and other conservatives say the bill would add nearly $150 billion to the federal deficit over the first 10 years; they want congressional leaders find a way to pay for it instead.
Loretta Lynch Nomination: The Senate still needs to confirm Loretta E. Lynch as attorney general, though there are few clues on how to end the lengthy impasse between GOP leaders and the White House. Lynch is a seasoned U.S. attorney from New York with solid credentials. During her confirmation hearings, she said she supported some of Obama’s more controversial policies, including executive orders on immigration, which infuriated many conservatives. The Republicans must choose between rejecting a perfectly qualified woman and minority for the position because of their pique over Obama’s policies or reject her and continue to deal with Eric Holder, whom many despise.
Anti-Human Trafficking Legislation: Under other circumstances Senate
Democrats would have jumped at the chance to help pass anti-human trafficking legislation that emerged from the Judiciary Committee. But Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and other Democrats began filibustering the bill after belatedly discovering an anti-abortion provision that had been added by Republicans. The bill creates a fund to help victims by using fees charged to traffickers.
Tax Relief Extravaganza: House leadership will roll out measures just in time for Tax Day on Wednesday to get the government off the backs of taxpayers and to begin restoring trust in the scandal-plagued IRS. Most are partisan “messaging” or “feel-good” bills unlikely to find adequate support in the Senate.
Cybersecurity Measures: By late April, the House is scheduled to take up two cybersecurity bills certain to draw sharp criticism from libertarian Republicans and some progressive Democrats who oppose anything that seems like more encroachment on individual liberties. Both bills are designed to strengthen protections and streamline the process by which cyber threats are shared between channels, according to Roll Call. Some opponents complain that the bills don’t provide sufficient protection for consumers.
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