November 25, 2013
Chuck Schumer (Andrew Burton/Getty Images) Chuck Schumer (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Less than a day after the news broke that a deal has been reached putting a temporary hold on Iran’s nuclear program, influential Senate Democrats immediately moved to cast doubt on the compromise, predicting Dems would pass a new round of sanctions on Iran.  One core question is not just whether Dems will pass sanctions, but whether they would take hold before the deal’s six month deadline. The White House fears both outcomes, but the latter one even more.

Senator Chuck Schumer criticized the deal for revoking sanctions that were responsible for forcing Iran to reach a deal in the first place, and predicted that it was now “more likely that Democrats and Republicans will join together and pass additional sanctions when we return in December.” Senator Robert Menendez, however, seemed to offer a key nuance, claiming any Senate action would “provide for a six month window to reach a final agreement before imposing new sanctions.”

A senior Senate Dem aide declined to rule out the possibility that Dems could pass sanctions that take hold before the six month deadline. When I asked if that was still possible, the aide said: “Don’t know yet,” adding that it might not be “possible to get a new round of sanctions up and running faster than that.” Sanctions legislation that takes hold before or after the six month mark remains a real possibility. (Update: The senior aide adds that it is “unlikely” that sanctions could be put in place before the six month expiration.)

The deal — which freezes progress on key parts of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for temporary sanctions relief — has been endorsed by foreign policy writers like Jeffrey Goldberg and Fred Kaplan, both of whom argue that even if it is imperfect, the most prudent course is to give Iran a chance to prove its true intentions.

As it is, the Obama administration is wary of additional Senate-imposed sanctions that would kick in even after six months. The administration’s position is a delicate balancing act: On the one hand, it argues that the six-month expiration date is a deadline in and of itself, meaning there is no need for Senate Dems to impose their own deadline. On the other, the administration wants to preserve flexibility in a scenario where both sides want to keep negotiating after the six month expiration date in the belief that a long term deal is within reach.

That’s not an easy balance to strike politically, and indeed, Politico reports that Dem Congressional aides are in no mood to play along with it. “Six months is all Iran will have,” one Congressional staffer tells Politico. “Obama might get his six months  — but the day after six months will not be a good day for a still nuclear  obsessed Iran.”

It looks possible that there is a real element of Kabuki here. Senate Dems may be partly threatening new sanctions now in order to give themselves cover later to give the administration the flexibility it is asking for. In this scenario, Dems can in effect argue: Okay, we’re skeptical, but we won’t act right now. We’ll wait — you’ve got six months to prove this can work.

But if this turns out to be real, Democrats who are inclined to impose new sanctions should be pressed to make a good case for why the request for flexibility is not a reasonable one on the part of the administration. As the Post editorial board puts it in its qualified endorsement of the Iran deal:

Congress played a vital role in bringing Iran to the bargaining table by passing tough sanctions, in some cases over the opposition of the Obama administration. But lawmakers would be wise to refrain from imposing sanctions that take effect while negotiations proceed. For now, the prudent course is to give diplomacy its chance.

* AMERICANS SUPPORT GENERAL IDEA OF IRAN DEAL: With some Congressional Dems threatening to reimpose sanctions, it’s worth remembering that last week’s Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 64 percent of Americans support the general idea of lifting sanctions in exchange for Iran restricting its nuke program.

And so, if Congress really does prematurely reimpose sanctions, it would stand as another way in which it is out of step with the American people.

* IN KENTUCKY, OBAMACARE MOVES FORWARD: The Washington Post has a terrific, deeply reported piece looking at people from a poor and unhealthy area in Kentucky who are being signed up for health insurance on the Kentucky exchange under the health law, which is one of its success stories thus far. This is noteworthy:

If the health-care law is having a troubled rollout across the country, Kentucky — and Breathitt County in particular — shows what can happen in a place where things are working as the law’s supporters envisioned. One reason is that the state set up its own health-insurance exchange, sidestepping the troubled federal one. Also, Gov. Steve Beshear (D) is the only Southern governor to sign on to expanded eligibility parameters for Medicaid, the federal health-insurance program for the poor.

The Affordable Care Act is designed to expand coverage, and the Medicaid expansion is one of its primary tools for doing that, even though some appear to be suggesting those covered that way somehow don’t count towards the law’s success.

* IN CALIFORNIA, OBAMACARE MOVES FORWARD: Paul Krugman has a good column on how California is emerging as another example of what Obamacare’s implementation looks like in a place where officials are trying to make it work:

For one thing, enrollment is surging. At this point, more than 10,000 applications are being completed per day, putting the state well on track to meet its overall targets for 2014 coverage. Just imagine, by the way, how different press coverage would be right now if Obama officials had produced a comparable success, and around 100,000 people a day were signing up nationwide.       

Equally important is the information on who is enrolling. To work as planned, health reform has to produce a balanced risk pool — that is, it must sign up young, healthy Americans as well as their older, less healthy compatriots. And so far, so good: in October, 22.5 percent of California enrollees were between the ages of 18 and 34, slightly above that group’s share of the population…in California we can see what health reform will look like, beyond the glitches. And it’s going to work.

While it’s still very possible the federal Obamacare website won’t get fixed, if it does, you could very well see enrollment surges in December and March, as Kaiser’s Larry Levitt predicts.

* OBAMA TAKES BIG HIT IN ANOTHER POLL: A new CNN poll finds that in the wake of the Obamacare rollout, only 40 percent say the president can manage the federal government effectively, and majorities say he does not inspire confidence and no longer view him as a strong leader, an area where Obama had long enjoyed support. The only silver lining:

He’s still seen as someone who cares about ordinary Americans, six in 10 say he has a vision for the country’s future, and seven in 10 say he is likable.

Given Obamacare’s problems, rising public skepticism of Obama as manager and leader is understandable. For now, the fact that majorities see him as someone with vision and the right priorities could conceivably help in the coming budget talks.

* IMMIGRATION ADVOCATES PRESSURE ON INDIVIDUAL GOPERS: The New York Times reports that immigration advocates, frustrated at the news that the House GOP won’t vote on reform this year, are increasingly focusing pressure on individual GOP lawmakers in districts with high Latino populations or with business interests who want reform. The hope is that individual Republicans can be persuaded to exert more pressure on the leadership to move forward.

The problem is that very few vulnerable House Republicans reside in districts with large enough Latino populations to make a difference to the outcome in 2014. The only way we’re going to see reform is if GOP leaders decided doing nothing is not tenable for the party long term.

* OVERWHELMING PUBLIC SUPPORT FOR IMMIGRATION REFORM: A new Public Religion Research Institute poll finds that 63 percent of Americans, including 60 percent of Republicans, favor creating a way for the 11 million to become citizens if they meet certain requirements. This is key:

14% support allowing them to become permanent legal residents but not citizens, and roughly 1-in-5 (18%) favor a policy that would identify and deport all immigrants living in the United States illegally.

There is no support for the solution favored by many Republicans — a sub-citizenship legal status — meaning it pleases nobody. And we don’t even know if House Republicans can get to this position — there is no indication they will vote on anything designed to address the 11 million.

* NO END TO TED CRUZ’S DISSEMBLING ON OBAMACARE: Glenn Kessler dismantles Ted Cruz’s latest: That the law will only cover between 15 and 20 million people, while “jeopardizing the health insurance of some 200 million Americans.” Cruz is lowballing the number who will get covered while inflating the number who will be adversely impacted — to criticize the “trade-off at the heart of Obamacare.”

The larger story here is that many foes of the law simply refuse to have an honest debate about the actual trade-offs at the heart of the law.

 

 

 

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.
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