House approves Iran divestment bill

House lawmakers on Wednesday handily approved a bill that would offer considerable leverage to state and local governments and businesses hoping to divest from Iran without penalty.

The measure, which cleared the chamber on a 389-6, offers legal protections to investors who decide to withdraw their financial support from companies or individuals who have a more than $20-million stake in the Iran's energy sector. Although it is officially titled the "Iran Sanctions Enabling Act," the bill does not levy any new sanctions on the Middle Eastern state, recently criticized for expanding its clandestine nuclear program.

The Senate is currently mulling its own version of the divestment bill, introduced in May by Sens. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Sam Brownback (R-Kans.). Like the House bill, the Senate's effort has already attracted serious bipartisan attention -- it has more than 30 co-sponsors -- but it is still pending the Banking Committee approval.

"Congress should be prepared to hand the president the leverage he needs to send a message to the Iranian regime that America cannot and will not accept an Iran with nuclear weapons," Casey told the committee during a hearing last week.  "The administration needs all the tools at its disposal to increase pressure on the regime, diplomatically, politically and through more stringent economic sanctions."