House to Senate: Get moving on Iran sanctions

House leaders are running out of patience with their Senate counterparts over Iran sanctions.

The lower chamber voted 400-20 in July to tighten the noose on Iran's energy sector and have been waiting for three months for the upper chamber to follow suit. The Senate Banking Committee had been expected to introduce and mark up its own sanctions bill this week but that timeframe has slipped after the Obama administration urged senators to hold off while U.S. diplomats test Iran's recent overtures.

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Lawmakers on the panel are postponing action until Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew brief them on Thursday, a Senate staffer told The Hill. The latest delay hasn't gone down well with House members of either party.

“The Senate should act,” said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), a Jewish Democrat who's close to leadership. “We ought to pass these increased sanctions, and make sure that the Iranians don't think that they can charm their way out of this situation. Act now.”

A spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the Republican leadership agrees.

“The House has acted on this important issue already,” Michael Steel said. “It's time for the Senate to follow suit.”

The Obama administration argues that slapping new sanctions now could undermine Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, as he rekindles international negotiations over Iran's nuclear program. The administration has asked for a delay to take place through the next round of talks, scheduled for Nov. 7 and 8 in Geneva.

“We have conveyed that any congressional action should be aligned with our negotiating strategy as we move forward,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Friday. “So while we understand that Congress may consider new sanctions, we think this is a time for a pause, as we asked for in the past, to see if negotiations can gain traction.”

That argument is failing to gain traction in the House. Lawmakers there believe the tough sanctions passed over the past two years over the White House's objections are the only reason Iran is back at the negotiating table.

“Pass the bill today so we can spend tomorrow writing the next bill; that's the message to the Senate,” said Rep. Brad Sherman (Calif.), a senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “When something is working, you keep it up. There aren't that many things in Washington that work.”

“Let's not kid ourselves: The only reason that [the Iranians] are negotiating now is because of the success of the sanctions in place,” said Rep. Ted Deutch (Fla.), the top Democrat on the committee's Middle East panel. “I think we need to keep up the pressure, I think we need to enhance the pressure.”

Republicans agree.

“It is imperative for the Senate to act in spite of the Obama administration's wishes that the Senate derail its tough sanctions legislation,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the chairwoman of the Middle East panel. “Only pressure works on thugs like Rouhani and company.”

She said House members and their staffers have made their impatience clear to their counterparts across the Capitol.

“They know that many of us in the House are pushing the Senate to act,” Ros-Lehtinen told The Hill. “I'm afraid that President Obama is winning the day on the soft approach toward Iran.”

The chairman of the full committee, Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), said it's “critical” for the Senate to act now.

“It is critical for the Senate to pass legislation to increase economic pressure on Iran,” Royce said in an email. “Existing sanctions have forced Tehran to the negotiating table, and we should be building more pressure instead of slowing down.”

Some Democrats however are willing to give Obama's diplomacy a chance.

“I've told this to the administration: the Senate can pass those sanctions, and will pass those sanctions, absent progress – substantial, significant, game-changing progress – within a very short period of time,” said Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). “I think the Senate's patience will be relatively short-lived.

“I think they will follow our lead at some in point in time. But I understand the critical juncture of these discussions.”