What’s bad for the debt is worse for foreign relations

By Steve Eggleston

In case you haven’t heard, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), unanimously reported favorably out of committee a bill that supposedly gives Congress a “right of refusal” on any agreement between the civilized world and Iran on Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

My immediate reaction, in the comments section of the Hot Air post, was that this is the “logical” extension of the 2011 cave on the debt ceiling to foreign policy. To wit, it’s a changing of an active Congressional approval to one of active Congressional disapproval in order to con those of us outside the DC bubble.

Andrew McCarthy has a longer explanation of this. As part of this, he links to the text of the bill itself, and a read of it is quite discouraging. Indeed, it’s nothing more than Kabuki theater.

The big item that is part of Corker’s bill is that it completely accedes to the notion that whatever agreement is reached is not only is an “executive agreement”, but one that requires no actual Congressional approval, much less the 2/3rds approval by the Senate a treaty requires. In fact, the bill explicitly allows for the waiving of all the sanctions against Iran if there is no action taken by Congress. In that respect, it’s worse than the various iterations of the “fast-track” trade negotiation authority that had existed for nearly the last 4 decades. Fast-track at least required the active approval of Congress.

With that said, given there wouldn’t be 2/3rds of Congress willing to override a Presidential veto of a maintenance of sanctions, it really doesn’t matter. According to the Congressional Research Service (courtesy the Federation of American Scientists), all of the statutory sanctions can be waived, and many of them outright terminated, by Presidential authority. In fact, the “prohibition” on those waivers during the Congressional review period specifically doesn’t apply to those made by mid-May, and arguably any made prior to the submission of a final agreement to Congress.

One could point to the fact that Congress would get semi-annual reports on Iran’s compliance with a nuclear deal, with an expedited consideration of a reimposition of sanctions as punishment for non-compliance, as a “positive”. However, given the punishment would require 2/3rds of both houses of Congress (after an Obama veto) to happen, and thus wouldn’t happen, it is equally meaningless.