Politics

Russia and Iran Sanctions Effort Hits Constitutional Snag

House will not take up Senate bill as written

House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady says there is a procedural issue with the Senate’s sanctions bill. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

BY NIELS LESNIEWSKI and LINDSEY McPHERSON, CQ ROLL CALL

What may be a small procedural obstacle has some senior Democrats crying foul over the House’s plans for new sanctions against Iran and Russia.

The Senate-passed bill to impose new sanctions on the two countries has a blue slip issue in the House, where the parliamentarian has determined it violates the Origination Clause of the Constitution. That clause states that revenue provisions must originate in the House, and such language was added late in the process in the Senate, House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady told reporters Tuesday.

“I strongly support sanctions against Iran and Russia to hold them accountable,” the Texas Republican said. “We were willing to work with the Senate throughout the process, but the final bill and final language violated the Origination Clause in the constitution. This was a result of our consultation with the House parliamentarian.”

Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s spokeswoman, AshLee Strong, added to Brady’s remarks.

“The Senate bill cannot be considered in the House its current form,” she said. “We will determine the next course of action after speaking with our Senate colleagues.”

Citing the Constitution, it is the prerogative of the House to start the legislative process for all revenue bills. The chamber protects this constitutional responsibility, but there are procedural workarounds.

Enacting law in clear violation of the Clause would provoke legal challenges, though.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee had been consulting with the House tax writers throughout the legislative process, according to a Senate GOP aide, who also said that the two parties were working to overcome the procedural hurdle posed by the Origination Clause.

Republican aides on the Senate side expected that either the Senate would pass a technical correction, perhaps by unanimous consent, or the House would introduce a similar bill on its own and either the Senate could clear that or the two chambers could go to a conference.

Senate Foreign Relations Ranking Democrat Benjamin L. Cardin had a far less charitable view of the action by the House.

“I’m deeply alarmed that the Republican House leadership is considering a parliamentary maneuver which could delay or halt the bill from advancing to the floor for a vote. Russia must be held accountable for its destabilizing activities in the United States, Ukraine, Syria, and worldwide,” the Democrat from Maryland said in a statement. “This bill does that and it’s time for House action, not political games to shield a White House unwilling or unable to comprehensively act on its own.”

Brady dismissed speculation that the blue slip issue is being used as an excuse to hold up the bill for the White House. The measure would provide a review process for any effort by President Donald Trump to potentially loosen sanctions against Russian interests,

Brady did not specify the exact language that caused the violation but said Ways and Means had not seen it before the bill was passed, suggesting the issue came in an amendment passed on the floor of the other chamber.

“The House obviously will act to preserve the Constitution, or the Senate can take the bill back, make the updates to it and bring it back and move it forward from that direction,” Brady said. “I think the policies look very strong and very positive.”

New York Rep. Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, suggested the House use what may be the most straightforward remedy given the 98-2 vote on the Senate floor.

“This is nothing but a delay tactic and the public shouldn’t be fooled by complex-sounding parliamentary procedure. If Republican leadership says we can’t act on the Senate bill, here’s an easy solution: Let’s introduce an identical House version and we can vote on that instead,” Engel said in a statement

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