From our Hill Sources: Congress is still in recess, but will return on April 13. In the meantime, here’s a look at the proposed Iran nuclear agreement and the “doc fix”—two issues that will certainly have Congress’s attention when they return. Also, there are bills pending in Congress about how legislation is crafted.
Iran Nuclear Agreement
On April 2, President Obama announced that the United States and the other P5+1 countries reached a “historic understanding” with Iran, which, “if fully implemented, will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” And in return for Iran’s actions, our own country’s sanctions as well as international sanctions will be phased out. Other American sanctions, however, will continue to be enforced, including those related to Iran’s support of terrorism, its human rights abuses and its ballistic missile program. (Read the President's statement.)
According to the President, “this framework would cut off every pathway that Iran could take to develop a nuclear weapon.” Over the next three months, negotiators will finalize key details of the deal, but the framework includes these components:
- “Iran will not be able to pursue a bomb using plutonium, because it will not develop weapons-grade plutonium. The core of its reactor at Arak will be dismantled and replaced. The spent fuel from that facility will be shipped out of Iran for the life of the reactor. Iran will not build a new heavy-water reactor. And Iran will not reprocess fuel from its existing reactors—ever.”
- “This deal shuts down Iran’s path to a bomb using enriched uranium. Iran has agreed that its installed centrifuges will be reduced by two-thirds. Iran will no longer enrich uranium at its Fordow facility. Iran will not enrich uranium with its advanced centrifuges for at least the next 10 years. The vast majority of Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium will be neutralized.”
- “This deal provides the best possible defense against Iran’s ability to pursue a nuclear weapon covertly—that is, in secret. International inspectors will have unprecedented access not only to Iranian nuclear facilities, but to the entire supply chain that supports Iran’s nuclear program—from uranium mills that provide the raw materials, to the centrifuge production and storage facilities that support the program.”
According to the President, “with this deal, Iran will face more inspections than any other country in the world.” And as a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, “Iran will never be permitted to develop a nuclear weapon.”
Shortly after the deal was announced, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) responded, urging Congressional review of the deal:
“My longtime concerns about the parameters of this potential agreement remain, but my immediate concern is the administration signaling it will provide near-term sanctions relief. Congress must be allowed to fully review the details of any agreement before any sanctions are lifted.”
Sanctions Amendment to the Senate Budget Resolution
As part of its budget resolution, the Senate voted last month to unanimously pass a bipartisan amendment sponsored by Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) supporting the “principle of immediately re-imposing waived sanctions and imposing new sanctions if Iran cheats on the interim nuclear deal or a final nuclear deal.”
From our Hill Sources: This budget amendment is non-binding, which means it doesn’t carry the weigh of law, but the vote forced Senators to go on the record about Iran sanctions. This amendment draws language directly from the bipartisan Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act, introduced earlier this year:
Sponsor: Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) —Bipartisan— “Would impose economic pressure on Iran if international negotiations do not yield a final nuclear deal by June 30th, and impose a Congressional review period of 30 continuous session days in the event of a final deal,” according to the bill sponsors. (Read bill text)
Congressional Review on the Iran Deal
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will vote on April 14 on whether to require Congressional review of a nuclear deal with Iran. The Committee Chairman, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), believes “the American people, through their elected representatives, must have the opportunity to weigh in to ensure any final deal truly can eliminate the threat of Iran’s nuclear program and hold the regime accountable.”
Sponsor: Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) —Bipartisan— Requiring congressional review of any comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran, according to the bill sponsors. “Would mandate the President submit the text of any agreement to Congress and prohibit the Administration from suspending Congressional sanctions for 60 days. During that period, Congress would have the opportunity to hold hearings and approve, disapprove or take no action on the agreement.” (Read bill text)
In addition, Congress has proposed several bills related to a nuclear deal with Iran:
Sponsor: Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) “Would impose new sanctions on Iran beginning in July 2015, unless that country has reached a long-term, comprehensive agreement on its nuclear program with the United States. Under the bill, preventing those sanctions from being imposed would require that the agreement be submitted to the Congress along with reports analyzing the extent to which such an agreement could be verified, and assessing the effects of recent sanctions relief on the Iranian economy. The President could waive the sanctions for 30 days at a time under specified conditions,” according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Sponsor: Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) “Would ensure that Congress has a central role in overseeing any nuclear deal with Iran. The bill would require the Administration to regularly report to Congress on Iranian compliance with any deal, and sets up an expedited process for Congress to reinstate sanctions and impose other penalties if Iran violates the terms of the deal,” according to bill sponsors. Specifically, the bill “requires the President to report to Congress at least once every 90 days on Iranian compliance with the Joint Plan of Action or any successor deal, and that the report be accompanied by an unclassified certification by the President, in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence, of whether Iran has complied with or violated such deal.” (Read bill text)
Sponsor: Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) “Would mandate the President submit the text of any agreement to Congress and prohibit the administration from suspending congressional sanctions for 60 days. During that period, Congress would have the opportunity to hold hearings and approve, disapprove or take no action on the agreement,” according to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Within five days of concluding a comprehensive agreement with Iran, the president must submit to Congress (1) the text of the agreement, (2) a verification assessment on Iranian compliance, and (3) a certification that the agreement meets U.S. non-proliferation objectives and does not jeopardize U.S. national security, including not allowing Iran to pursue nuclear-related military activities.” (Read bill text)
Sponsor: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) “In support of ongoing P5+1 nuclear negotiations with Iran. The resolution states that the Senate is prepared to enact additional sanctions against Iran if current diplomatic efforts fail, but refuses to prejudge the outcome. This resolution represents a different approach than that of the sanctions bill” (S 269), according to resolution sponsors. (Read resolution text)
Doc Fix Deadline Passes
Before leaving for recess, Congress got closer to addressing the recurring issue of the Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) payments for doctors. Members of Congress agree that the Medicare SGR formula, which was passed by Congress in 1997 to control physician spending has failed to work, according to the House Way and Means Committee. The SGR formula is “a cap on aggregate spending on physicians’ services where exceeding the cap resulted in punitive recoupments in subsequent years.” It has led to 17 short-term patches enacted by Congress to prevent significant Medicare reimbursement rate cuts over the past decade. And under this formula, Medicare payments to doctors were scheduled to be cut by 21 percent on April 1, but the Department of Health and Human Services is holding off processing claims at the lower rate until April 15—giving Congress additional time to pass a fix.
The House had approved legislation to address it, but the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) decided not to advance the bill until after Congress returns from recess, April 13. The proposed bipartisan legislation “moves the Medicare payment system toward improved value and returns stability to physician payments,” ending the annual “doc fix” crisis:
Sponsor: Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) —Bipartisan— “Repeals the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula and replaces it with a long-term sustainable plan. The bipartisan bill is an important advancement in long-fought efforts to comprehensively reform the Medicare system in order to promote higher quality care for seniors, physicians, and providers,” according to the bill sponsor. (Read bill text)
Doc Fix Now a Part of a Larger Package
The SGR repeal bill (HR 1470) was added to a package, HR 2, which also funds the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and extends all of the Medicare extenders and funding for Community Health Centers through 2017:
Sponsor: Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) —Bipartisan— Repeals the flawed SGR formula and replaces it with HR 1470, the bicameral, bipartisan agreement that moves the Medicare payment system toward improved value and returns stability to physician payments; Preserves and extends CHIP, fully funding the program through Sept. 30, 2017; Extends all of the extenders included in the Protecting Access to Medicare Act of 2014 (PAMA, the most recent SGR patch) in addition to funding for Community Health Centers through 2017. Also includes two bipartisan Medicare bills, Medicare DMEPOS Competitive Bidding Improvement Act (HR 284), which makes modifications to the Medicare durable medical equipment, prosthetics, orthotics, and supplies competitive acquisition program; and the Protecting Integrity in Medicare Act (HR 1021), which strengthens Medicare’s ability to fight fraud and builds on existing program integrity policies. (Read bill text)
From our Hill Sources: This larger package passed the House and is expected to be voted on by the Senate before April 15, when the lower rates for Medicare payments take effect.
Bills about Bills
Many POPVOX users have been curious about—and even doubted—the authenticity of bill names and less obvious provisions. That’s why we always encourage people to read the bill text before weighing in. Even Congress has had the same concerns. Check out these recently introduced bills and resolutions:
Sponsor: Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) Requires each bill, order, resolution, or vote that must be submitted to the President under the Constitution to embrace no more than one subject. Requires the subject to be clearly and descriptively expressed in the title of the bill, order, resolution, or vote.
Sponsor: Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) A resolution to provide sufficient time for legislation to be read. Makes it out of order in the Senate to consider any measure or matter until one session day has passed since introduction for every 20 pages included in the measure or matter in the usual form, plus one session day for any number of remaining pages less than 20.
Sponsor: Rep. Peter Scott (D-CA) —Bipartisan— ”Currently, once a bill passes committee, the Majority Leader and the Speaker decide if and when that bill will receive a vote on the floor. This means that many bills that pass committee will never get a vote on the House floor, which is unacceptable. We should change that so that every bill that passes Committee receives a vote on the floor within 60 days,” according to the bill sponsor.
Sponsor: Rep. Frank Guinta (R-NH) —Bipartisan— “Every piece of legislation awaiting consideration by Congress would receive a duplication score by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, with the goal of providing Members the necessary knowledge to identify whether or not a new bill creates a new program or project that already exists within our government,” according to the bill sponsor.
Sponsor: Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) “Would create a rule requiring the Senate to adopt “dynamic scoring” of major tax and spending legislation. Virtually all economists agree that major tax changes can alter economic growth rates, which in turn impact the revenue effect of those changes. However, currently the official “static” scores exclude these macroeconomic impacts. The Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) and Congressional Budget Office (CBO) already have the models and resources to score the macroeconomic impact of major tax and spending bills at no taxpayer cost,” according to the bill sponsor.
From our Hill Sources: The Honest Scoring Act was included as an amendment to the Senate budget resolution, which is non-binding and does not have the force of law, but it does get Senators on the record regarding this issue.
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