Executive and Legislative Branch Activity
Budget and the Debt Ceiling Debate
With no congressional consensus on a bill to fund the U.S. federal government for FY 2014, on Tuesday, October 1, the U.S. government partially shut down. Last week, the House attempted to advance its strategy of passing “mini” continuing resolutions (CR) to fund parts of the government, starting with: (1) the government of Washington, D.C.; (2) the National Park Service; and (3) the National Institutes of Health. The Democratic-controlled Senate rejected the House Republicans’ narrowly targeted stopgap spending measures strategy, instead maintaining the House needs to pass a “clean” CR that funds the entire government. Adding pressure to the ongoing congressional impasse, Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew warned Congress again last week to raise the debt ceiling before the U.S. government defaults on its loan obligations, saying the U.S. economy would experience a recession worse than 2008 if the ceiling is not raised before October 17. Both chambers of Congress were in session this past weekend. Despite the government shutdown, the U.S. Department of State has kept open all U.S. Embassies and is still issuing passports. For a more detailed summary of the CR impasse, please see the Budget and Appropriations section of the Capital Thinking blog.
In light of the congressional stalemate and the upcoming debt ceiling debate, late Thursday, October 3, the White House announced President Barack Obama’s planned trip to Indonesia and Brunei was cancelled. The President’s planned stops in Malaysia and the Philippines were also cancelled. Last Saturday through today, Secretary of State John Kerry instead attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Summit in Bali, Indonesia. He also met with the other leaders of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) countries.
Also attributed to the shutdown, the scheduled October 1 launch of a new congressional group to work on building support for the TPP negotiations was cancelled. House Ways and Means Committee Representatives Dave Reichert (R-WA), Ron Kind (D-WI; and New Democrat Chairman), and Charles Boustany (R-LA) will lead the group. The event has yet to be rescheduled. Citing the U.S. government shutdown, last Friday, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman cancelled the second round of Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations that were to be held this week in Brussels, Belgium.
Yesterday, a joint Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and United Nations (U.N.) team began disabling chemical weapons in Syria. Stored at multiple sites, the Syrian government’s chemical weapons stockpile is believed to include the nerve gas sarin, the blister agent sulfur mustard and other banned chemicals. The advance OPCW-U.N. team arrived last week to handle logistical planning to rid Syria of its chemical weapons program by mid-2014. The OPCW-U.N. team stresses the onus is on the Syrian Government to meet the verification and destruction deadlines.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) held a hearing last week on U.S. sanctions against Iran. Testifying before the panel, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman urged the Senate to refrain from introducing new sanctions legislation until after the first round of restarted P5+1 Talks, which are scheduled for October 15-16 in Geneva, Switzerland. The Senate Banking Committee, in collaboration with the SFRC, is finalizing a bill that would further curb Iran’s oil exports and shut off other elements of the Iranian economy from global markets. The House passed its sanctions measure (H.R. 850) in July.
Congress appears to generally support continuing and increasing economic sanctions. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ed Royce (R-CA) said,
“I strongly encourage the Senate to pass sanctions legislation now. … Before we slow down on sanctions, we must see actions – not simply talk – from Iran. Iran is only at the table because of our [Congress] economic pressure. Why fool with success?”
Chairman Royce also said he intends to hold a hearing to measure Tehran’s commitment to negotiate with the P5+1. After a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) noted sanctions helped to restart the Talks, but cautioned:
“If we lift the sanctions without seeing a full removal of nuclear weapons, [Iran] will never remove them.”
This past weekend, the media reported on two concurrent US. special forces missions in Libya and Somalia. The military mission in Libya reportedly concluded with the capture of Nazih al-Ragye, better known as Abu Anas al-Liby – an al Qaeda operative allegedly involved in the bombings of U.S. Embassies 15 years ago. The mission in Somalia apparently targeted an al-Shabaab stronghold in response to the attack last month on a Kenyan mall but failed to seize or kill the unnamed target. Secretary Kerry said from Indonesia:
“We hope this makes clear that the United States of America will never stop in its effort to hold those accountable who conduct acts of terror.”
The State Department expressed concern last week over reports that Russian security forces were erecting fences and other physical barriers along the administrative boundary lines of the occupied territories in Georgia. The Department called on Russia to remove the barriers, saying
“[t]his borderization is inconsistent with Russia’s international commitments and Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders.”
Russian state prosecutors formally charged 14 Greenpeace activists, including one U.S. citizen, last week for alleged piracy activity against a Russian oil platform in the Pechora Sea. Two months ago, the Russian Coast Guard boarded the Arctic Sunrise in international waters, towed the Greenpeace ship to Murmansk, and detained those on board. An additional 16 activists await formal charges, including another U.S. citizen.
Last week, the Venezuelan Government declared the U.S. Embassy Chargé d’Affaires, the political officer and the consular officer persona non grata, giving these U.S. diplomatic officials 48 hours to depart Caracas. All three were accused of being involved in promoting anti-government plots. In response, the United States expelled three Venezuelan diplomats, including the Chargé.
This Week’s Hearings:
Tuesday, October 8: The Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Security and Governance in Somalia: Consolidating Gains, Confronting Challenges, and Charting the Path Forward.”
Wednesday, October 9: The Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on European Affairs is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “A Pivotal Moment for the Eastern Partnership: Outlook for Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan.”
Wednesday, October 9: The House Foreign Affairs Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Haiti: Is U.S. Aid Effective?”
Thursday, October 10: The Senate Banking Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Impact of a Default on Financial Stability and Economic Growth.”
Thursday, October 10: The House Foreign Affairs Committee will markup H.R. 3212, Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act of 2013.