Senate votes to tighten sanctions on Iran

The Senate passed an amendment Friday morning to the defense bill that would tighten economic sanctions against Iran.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) introduced amendment 3232, which would further tighten economic sanctions against Iran, just a year after Congress passed what some called extremely tough measures against Tehran.

Menendez said his amendment, which passed on a 94-0 vote, was needed because of new evidence from the International Atomic Energy Association indicating that Iran appears to be adding centrifuge capacity and conducting explosives tests that could be used to detonate a nuclear weapon.

"Our message is clear. The window is closing. The time for the waiting game is over," Menendez said on the Senate floor late Thursday.

"Yes, our sanctions are having a demonstrable effect on the Iranian economy, but Iran is still working just as hard to develop nuclear weapons."

Menendez’s amendment would sanction energy, port and shipbuilding sectors, particularly entities that supply certain commodities to Iran that are seen as contributing to Iran's shipbuilding capacity. These commodities include graphite, aluminum, coal, steel and software used to integrate industrial processes.

Another foreign policy amendment was introduced by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). Amendment 3009 requires Congressional review of the bilateral status of forces agreement between the United States and Afghanistan for troop withdrawal. The measure passed on a voice-vote.

Sessions said that since the Islamic Republican of Afghanistan — their equivalent of Congress — votes on whether to approve the agreement, the least the Obama administration could do is allow the U.S. Congress to review the agreement before it takes place.

An amendment from Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), 3025, would have eliminated a cap on the size of the civilian and contract services workforces in the Department of Defense, but the measure was rejected in a 41-53 vote Friday.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) introduced amendment 3073, which would repeal the requirement for reduction of survivor benefits plan survivor annuities by dependency and indemnity compensation for military widows and children. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) brought up a budget point of order against Nelson's amendment because he said it added $7 billion to the budget. The budget point of order was not waived by a 58-34 vote, — 60 votes were needed — killing the amendment. 

The Senate is scheduled to continue amendment work on the National Defense Authorization Act, S. 3254, on Friday, with hopes of finishing work by the end of the week. The defense bill funds U.S. military operation.

On Thursday, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) threatened to filibuster the remaining votes until he was allowed to call up his own amendment, which would prohibit a mental illness diagnosis from stopping veterans from owning guns, unless they are deemed mentally ill by a judge.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) objected to allowing a vote on Coburn’s amendment late Thursday night.

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