A debate over Iran may highlight the Senate's agenda, but it already seems like there might be too much to do.
Sen. Bob Corker's efforts to get broad support for bipartisan legislation to provide a role for Congress in reviewing a final international agreement with Iran about nuclear weapons appears to have paid dividends. And the Corker legislation seems to be on an expedited path to the floor after a markup set for Tuesday afternoon. "We have reached a bipartisan agreement that keeps the congressional review process absolutely intact, full of integrity. And look, this is the rightful role for Congress," the Tennessee Republican said on MSNBC.
Senators were being briefed behind closed doors Tuesday morning by Obama administration officials including Secretary of State John Kerry, Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew and Energy Secretary Ernest J. Moniz, according to a source familiar with the briefing.
"On behalf of the American people, we want to make sure that if a final deal is reached, it lays before Congress, we have the opportunity to go through every detail, including, by the way, the classified annexes that you're so familiar with that we have the right to vote to approve or disapprove, and in the event there is a deal that goes on, we have the right to know that Iran is complying. We have the ability to take actions if they're not," Corker said, speaking ahead of that briefing. "So I would think every American would want to make sure that someone on their behalf is ensuring that that is the case."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday that Corker's legislation is a high priority for the full Senate, as part of a detailed outline of the chamber's upcoming legislative activity.
"The legislation is supported by a large number of Democrats. It's no wonder why. The bill is aimed at giving Congress and the American people a say in reviewing and approving an international agreement with such wide-ranging consequences," McConnell said. "And the American people should have a say."
The bill, which Corker drafted with Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., has already come under a veto threat from the White House. During the MSNBC appearance, Corker dismissed the idea he had been working with the Obama administration on addressing concerns with the legislation.
"I've had no conversations about the substance of this bill with any principal, whether it be the president, Secretary Kerry, or others," Corker said.
Turning to other business, McConnell said he viewed legislation that's arrived from the House to resolve the recurring issue of the risk of draconian cuts to payments to doctors treating Medicare patients as deserving of a Senate vote, even though some senators have expressed opposition.
"It's a solution to a broken Medicare payment system that had vexed congressional leaders of both parties for years. It would mean an end to the annual exercise of Congress passing a temporary 'fix' to the problem one year and then coming right up to the very same cliff the next year, without actually solving the underlying problem," McConnell said on the Senate floor. "So the fact that we have a bipartisan reform bill here is significant in itself. The fact that it passed the House overwhelmingly is even more significant still."
The deal spearheaded by Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to replace the sustainable growth rate has some opposition on the Senate side, particularly from conservatives who have balked at the lack of offsets for the $141 billion price tag, even if the current system has been somewhat farcical from the outset.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, joined that crowd Tuesday morning.
"While I appreciate the work done by my colleagues in the House, I cannot support the Boehner-Pelosi bill, which institutionalizes and expands Obamacare policies that harm patients and their doctors while adding roughly half a trillion dollars to our long-term debt within two decades. The so-called 'SGR' is a flawed approach that needs to be eliminated, but doing so should be a catalyst for real entitlement reform," Cruz said in a statement. "Any deal should be fully paid for and include significant and structural reforms to Medicare that provide seniors more power and control over their health care."
But, House GOP leadership is warning the Senate against making any changes to the bipartisan legislation to replace Medicare's SGR.
"The House passed the bill to permanently end the ‘doc fix’ with nearly 400 votes. It’s good, solid, fiscally-responsible legislation – and we certainly don’t intend to pass anything else," Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement.
In addition to the Medicare payment deal and the Iran legislation, McConnell reaffirmed his position that the Senate needs to pass legislation designed to address human trafficking that's sponsored by Republican Whip John Cornyn of Texas before moving ahead with confirmation of Loretta Lynch to be attorney general. It is now more than 150 days since President Barack Obama nominated Lynch.
Judiciary ranking member Patrick J. Leahy criticized the delays on Lynch's nomination, as well as the slow movement on judicial nominations since Republicans took over the Senate majority, in a Monday statement. The first judicial confirmation of the year came Monday evening.
"The fact that it has taken more than three months into the 114th Congress for the Republican majority to schedule a vote on a single judicial nominee is disconcerting, especially because all four of the district court nominees that have been languishing on the Senate floor were recommended to President Obama by their two Republican home state Senators," the Vermont Democrat said.
But on Tuesday, McConnell pointed to the plight of the trafficking bill, which has been stuck on the Senate floor amid a seemingly endless dispute about anti-abortion policy language .
"A large, bipartisan majority of the Senate has voted repeatedly to end a very regrettable Democrat filibuster of this anti-slavery bill. It will only take a few more votes from our friends across the aisle to bring hope to children in chains and women suffering in the shadows," McConnell said. "So we've been reaching out to our friends to work with them to end the Democrat filibuster of human-rights legislation."
In his floor speech, McConnell also took time to praise bipartisan efforts on education policy , cybersecurity and trade promotion authority.
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