Middle East Amendments in the Senate Budget “Vote-a-Rama” - UPDATED 3/26

This week the Senate is dealing with S. Con. Res. 11. "An original concurrent resolution setting forth the congressional budget for the United States Government for fiscal year 2016 and setting forth the appropriate budgetary levels for fiscal years 2017 through 2025."  This annual exercise is nicknamed a “vote-a-rama,” with members permitted to offer as many amendments as they like on pretty much any topic, so long as they append the magic words at the end of every amendment: “provided that such legislation would not increase the deficit over either the period of the total of fiscal years 2016 through 2020 or the period of the total of fiscal years 2016 through 2025.”

In past years, we have not seen a lot of Middle East provisions offered to the annual budget resolution – possibly because Senators prefer to attach Middle East-related amendments to binding, must-pass legislation like the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill, or the Defense Authorization bill; or because there were stricter rules governing amendments; or just maybe because at no time in recent memory has the Senate (or some of its members) behaved in such a reckless and at times nutty-as-a squirrel-turd manner as is the case today.

In this context, it comes as no surprise to see lots of Middle East-related amendments being offered to S. Con. Res. 11.  Below is a summary of these amendments – it will be updated if more are submitted.  It should be kept in mind that some/most/all of these may never be voted on and that in any case, they are non-binding; however, they are important nonetheless as statements of congressional intent and as efforts to corner members into taking a more consequential vote on binding legislation later.

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UPDATE:  On 3/25, additional Middle East amendments were introduced, summarized below. 

Also, as updated below, the Senate voted courageously and unanimously (99-0) to adopt SA 481, submitted by Cotton (R-AR), to permit the cutting of funding to the UN or other international organizations which take “unfair or discriminatory action against Israel.”  Note that what constitutes "unfair or discriminatory action against Israel" is not in any way specified.  Cotton's floor statement in support of his amendment is here. 

Also, the Senate began consideration of SA 545,  the Kirk (R-IL) amendment seeking to lock Democrats into supporting S. 269, the Kirk-Menendez Iran sanctions bill, over President Obama's objections.  On 3/25, the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) circulated an email urging its supporters to take action and urge senators to vote for the amendment (which is expected to be voted on today) and noting that "Like the budget resolution itself, Senator Kirk's amendment would not have the force of law. But by expressing the 'sense of the Senate' regarding sanctions and Iranian compliance, it will set the stage for future actions."

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Amendments submitted 3/25

SA 660: Submitted by Cotton (R-AR) to permit the prohibition of funding use of funds for cooperating with the Government of Iran in combating the Islamic State.  Here is the text of the amendment (found in the Congressional record here). 

At the appropriate place, insert the following:

SEC. __X. SPENDING-NEUTRAL RESERVE FUND RELATING TO PROHIBITING THE USE OF FUNDS FOR COOPERATING WITH THE GOVERNMENT OF IRAN IN COMBATING THE ISLAMIC STATE.

The Chairman of the Committee on the Budget of the Senate may revise the allocations of a committee or committees, aggregates, and other appropriate levels in this resolution for one or more bills, joint resolutions, amendments, amendments between the Houses, motions, or conference reports relating to prohibiting the use of funds for cooperating with the Government of Iran in combating the Islamic State by the amounts provided in such legislation for those purposes, provided that such legislation would not raise new revenue and would not increase the deficit over either the period of the total of fiscal years 2016 through 2020 or the period of the total of fiscal years 2016 through 2025.

SA 663: Submitted by Cotton (R-AR) to prohibit funding for negotiating with President of Syria Bashar al Assad and the Government of Syria to resolve the Syrian civil war and combat the Islamic State.  Here is the text of the amendment (found in the Congressional record here). 

At the appropriate place, insert the following:

SEC. __X. SPENDING-NEUTRAL RESERVE FUND RELATING TO PROHIBITING THE USE OF FUNDS FOR NEGOTIATING WITH PRESIDENT OF SYRIA BASHAR AL ASSAD AND THE GOVERNMENT OF SYRIA TO RESOLVE THE SYRIAN CIVIL WAR AND COMBAT THE ISLAMIC STATE.

The Chairman of the Committee on the Budget of the Senate may revise the allocations of a committee or committees, aggregates, and other appropriate levels in this resolution for one or more bills, joint resolutions, amendments, amendments between the Houses, motions, or conference reports relating to prohibiting the use of funds for negotiating with President of Syria Bashar al Assad and the Government of Syria to resolve the Syrian civil war and combat the Islamic State by the amounts provided in such legislation for those purposes, provided that such legislation would not raise new revenue and would not increase the deficit over either the period of the total of fiscal years 2016 through 2020 or the period of the total of fiscal years 2016 through 2025.

SA 756: Submitted by Stabenow (D-MI) to prevent taxpayer funding of congressional letters to the government of Iran. Here is the text of the amendment (found in the Congressional record here). 

At the appropriate place, insert the following:

SEC. __X. DEFICIT-NEUTRAL RESERVE FUND RELATING TO ENDING TAXPAYER FUNDING OF CONGRESSIONAL LETTERS TO THE GOVERNMENT OF IRAN.

The Chairman of the Committee on the Budget of the Senate may revise the allocations of a committee or committees, aggregates, and other appropriate levels in this resolution for one or more bills, joint resolutions, amendments, amendments between the Houses, motions, or conference reports relating to activities related to congressional expenses, which may include disallowing stationary or electronic devices to communicate with one or more foreign countries by interfering with the Executive Branch's role in international nuclear negotiations on behalf of the United States, by the amounts provided in such legislation for those purposes, provided that such legislation would not increase the deficit over either the period of the total of fiscal years 2016 through 2020 or the period of the total of fiscal years 2016 through 2025.

SA 775: Submitted by Rubio (R-FL) to establish a reserve fund relating to the imposition of new sanctions against the Government of Iran because of that Government's support for terrorism and its human rights abuses against the people of Iran. Here is the text of the amendment (found in the Congressional record here). 

At the end of title III, add the following:

SEC. 352. SPENDING-NEUTRAL RESERVE FUND RELATING TO THE IMPOSITION OF NEW SANCTIONS AGAINST THE GOVERNMENT OF IRAN BECAUSE OF THAT GOVERNMENT'S SUPPORT FOR TERRORISM AND ITS HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES AGAINST THE PEOPLE OF IRAN.

The Chairman of the Committee on the Budget of the Senate may revise the allocations of a committee or committees, aggregates, and other appropriate levels in this resolution for one or more bills, joint resolutions, amendments, amendments between the Houses, motions, or conference reports relating to the imposition of new sanctions against the Government of Iran because of that Government's support for terrorism and its human rights abuses against the people of Iran, by the amounts provided in such legislation for those purposes, provided that such legislation would not raise new revenue and would not increase the deficit over either the period of the total of fiscal years 2016 through 2020 or the period of the total of fiscal years 2016 through 2025.

SA 781:  Introduced by Rubio (R-FL) to reduce funding to the UN Human Rights Council, UNRWA, and the Palestinian Authority [apparently use of the term “Palestine” in Rubio’s 3/24 amendment] and increase funding to Israel by the amount taken from away from them. Here is the text of the amendment (found in the Congressional record here). 

At the appropriate place, insert the following:

SEC. __X. SPENDING-NEUTRAL RESERVE FUND RELATING TO REDUCING FOREIGN ASSISTANCE TO THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY AND CERTAIN UNITED NATIONS AGENCIES AND INCREASING FOREIGN ASSISTANCE FOR ISRAEL.

The Chairman of the Committee on the Budget of the Senate may revise the allocations of a committee or committees, aggregates, and other appropriate levels in this resolution for one or more bills, joint resolutions, amendments, amendments between the Houses, motions, or conference reports relating to reducing assistance for the United Nations Human Rights Council, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, and the Palestinian Authority because of these entities' anti-Israel behavior, and increasing foreign assistance for missile defense programs in Israel, by the amounts provided in such legislation for those purposes, provided that such legislation would not raise new revenue and would not increase the deficit over either the period of the total of fiscal years 2016 through 2020 or the period of the total of fiscal years 2016 through 2025.

SA 839:  Submitted by Isakson (R-GA) to establish a fund for U.S. citizens held hostage at the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Here is the text of the amendment (found in the Congressional record here).

At the end of title III, add the following:

SEC. 352. DEFICIT-NEUTRAL RESERVE FUND RELATING TO SUPPORTING UNITED STATES CITIZENS HELD HOSTAGE IN THE UNITED STATES EMBASSY IN TEHRAN, IRAN, BETWEEN NOVEMBER 3, 1979, AND JANUARY 20, 1981.

The Chairman of the Committee on the Budget of the Senate may revise the allocations of a committee or committees, aggregates, and other appropriate levels in this resolution for one or more bills, joint resolutions, amendments, amendments between the Houses, motions, or conference reports relating to supporting United States citizens held hostage in the United States embassy in Tehran, Iran, between November 3, 1979, and January 20, 1981, by the amounts provided in such legislation for those purposes, provided that such legislation would not increase the deficit over either the period of the total of fiscal years 2016 through 2020 or the period of the total of fiscal years 2016 through 2025.

SA 857: Submitted 3/25 by Lee (R-UT) for the investigation and recovery of weapons and military equipment missing in Yemen. Here is the text of the amendment (found in the Congressional record here.

At the appropriate place, insert the following:

SEC. __X. SPENDING-NEUTRAL RESERVE FUND RELATING TO THE INVESTIGATION AND RECOVERY OF MISSING WEAPONS AND MILITARY EQUIPMENT PROVIDED TO THE GOVERNMENT OF YEMEN BY THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT.

The Chairman of the Committee on the Budget of the Senate may revise the allocations of a committee or committees, aggregates, and other appropriate levels in this resolution for one or more bills, joint resolutions, amendments, amendments between the Houses, motions, or conference reports relating to the investigation and recovery of missing weapons and military equipment provided to the Government of Yemen by the United States Government to ensure that such items are not in the possession of or used by radical extremist groups operating in the country by the amounts provided in such legislation for those purposes, provided that such legislation would not raise new revenue and would not increase the deficit over either the period of the total of fiscal years 2016 through 2020 or the period of the total of fiscal years 2016 through 2025.

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Amendments submitted 3/24

SA 468 Submitted by Blunt (R-MO), to permit additional military aid to Israel (above and beyond the $3.1 billion provided in the ForOps bill and the additional more than $350 million funded under the Defense Authorization bill), so long as the funding was budget-neutral.  Here is the text of the amendment (found in the Congressional record here):

At the appropriate place, insert the following:

SEC. __X. SPENDING-NEUTRAL RESERVE FUND RELATING TO MILITARY AID TO ISRAEL.

The Chairman of the Committee on the Budget of the Senate may revise the allocations of a committee or committees, aggregates, and other appropriate levels in this resolution for one or more bills, joint resolutions, amendments, amendments between the Houses, motions, or conference reports relating to providing grants only in Israel for the procurement in Israel of defense articles and defense services, including research and development to assist Israel in maintaining its qualitative military edge, by the amounts provided in such legislation for those purposes, provided that such legislation would not raise new revenue and would not increase the deficit over either the period of the total of fiscal years 2016 through 2020 or the period of the total of fiscal years 2016 through 2025.

SA 481: Submitted by Cotton (R-AR), to permit the cutting of funding by the UN or other international organizations which take “unfair or discriminatory action against Israel,” so long as the action is budget-neutral. UPDATE:  Adopted 3/25 by a vote of 99-0.  Here is the text of the amendment (found in the Congressional record here):

At the appropriate place, insert the following:

SEC. __X. DEFICIT-NEUTRAL RESERVE FUND RELATING TO SUPPORTING ISRAEL.

The Chairman of the Committee on the Budget of the Senate may revise the allocations of a committee or committees, aggregates, and other appropriate levels in this resolution for one or more bills, joint resolutions, amendments, amendments between the Houses, motions, or conference reports relating to United States policy toward Israel, which may include preventing the United Nations and other international institutions from taking unfair or discriminatory action against Israel, by the amounts provided in such legislation for those purposes, provided that such legislation would not increase the deficit over either the period of the total of fiscal years 2016 through 2020 or the period of the total of fiscal years 2016 through 2025.

SA 493:  Submitted by Ayotte (R-NH), to permit additional funding for missile defense cooperation with Israel (above and beyond what is funded under law), so long as the action is budget-neutral. Here is the text of the amendment (found in the Congressional record here):

At the end of title III, add the following:

SEC. 3__. DEFICIT-NEUTRAL RESERVE FUND RELATING TO STRENGTHENING MISSILE DEFENSE COOPERATION WITH ISRAEL.

The Chairman of the Committee on the Budget of the Senate may revise the allocations of a committee or committees, aggregates, and other appropriate levels in this resolution for one or more bills, joint resolutions, amendments, amendments between the Houses, motions, or conference reports relating to strengthening missile defense cooperation with Israel by the amounts provided in such legislation for those purposes, provided that such legislation would not increase the deficit over either the period of the total of fiscal years 2016 through 2020 or the period of the total of fiscal years 2016 through 2025.

SA 545:  Submitted by Kirk (R-IL), to permit funding to reimpose waived sanction with respect to Iran, and impose new sanctions with respect to Iran, for “violations of the Joint Plan of Action or a comprehensive agreement on Iran's nuclear program, “by the amounts provided in such legislation for those purposes [i.e., the pending Kirk-Menendez sanctions bill, S. 269],” so long as the action is budget-neutral. This appears to be an effort to get Democrats to vote in principle for the Kirk-Menendez bill now, making it harder for them to vote against it later.  [UPDATE:  On 3/25 the Republican Jewish Coalition circulated an email calling on supporters to urge Senators to vote for the amendment, noting that while non-binding the amendmetn sets the stage for future "actions"].  Here is the text of the amendment (found in the Congressional record here):

At the end of title III, add the following:

SEC. 3__. DEFICIT-NEUTRAL RESERVE FUND RELATING TO REIMPOSING WAIVED SANCTIONS AND IMPOSING NEW SANCTIONS AGAINST IRAN FOR VIOLATIONS OF THE JOINT PLAN OF ACTION OR A COMPREHENSIVE NUCLEAR AGREEMENT.

The Chairman of the Committee on the Budget of the Senate may revise the allocations of a committee or committees, aggregates, and other appropriate levels in this resolution for one or more bills, joint resolutions, amendments, amendments between the Houses, motions, or conference reports relating to Iran, which may include efforts to immediately reimpose waived sanctions and impose new sanctions against the Government of Iran for violations of the Joint Plan of Action or a comprehensive agreement on Iran's nuclear program, by the amounts provided in such legislation for those purposes, provided that such legislation would not increase the deficit over either the period of the total of fiscal years 2016 through 2020 or the period of the total of fiscal years 2016 through 2025.

SA 552:  Submitted by Rubio (R-FL) to permit funding to relocate the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, so long as the action is budget-neutral. Here is the text of the amendment (found in the Congressional record here):

At the end of title III, add the following:

SEC. 3__. SPENDING-NEUTRAL RESERVE FUND RELATING TO INCREASING FUNDING FOR THE RELOCATION OF THE UNITED STATES EMBASSY IN ISRAEL FROM TEL AVIV TO JERUSALEM.

The Chairman of the Committee on the Budget of the Senate may revise the allocations of a committee or committees, aggregates, and other appropriate levels in this resolution for one or more bills, joint resolutions, amendments, amendments between the Houses, motions, or conference reports relating to increasing funding for United States embassies, which may include the relocation of the United States Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, by the amounts provided in such legislation for those purposes, provided that such legislation would not raise new revenue and would not increase the deficit over either the period of the total of fiscal years 2016 through 2020 or the period of the total of fiscal years 2016 through 2025.

SA 558: Submitted by Rubio (R-FL) to reduce funding to “Palestine” [seriously?] and increase funding for Israel [presumably by funding for “Palestine” and giving it to Israel instead], so long as the action is “budget-neutral.” Here is the text of the amendment (found in the Congressional record here):

At the appropriate place, insert the following:

SEC. __X. SPENDING-NEUTRAL RESERVE FUND RELATING TO REDUCING FOREIGN ASSISTANCE TO PALESTINE AND INCREASING FOREIGN ASSISTANCE FOR ISRAEL.

The Chairman of the Committee on the Budget of the Senate may revise the allocations of a committee or committees, aggregates, and other appropriate levels in this resolution for one or more bills, joint resolutions, amendments, amendments between the Houses, motions, or conference reports relating to reducing foreign assistance to Palestine and increasing foreign assistance for Israel by the amounts provided in such legislation for those purposes, provided that such legislation would not raise new revenue and would not increase the deficit over either the period of the total of fiscal years 2016 through 2020 or the period of the total of fiscal years 2016 through 2025.

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