Corker-Menendez: No bill is better than a bad bill

"Closer examination [of the bill designed to give Congress some control over the impending Iran deal] shows that the bill is just as illusory as iron pyrite."

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) (C) talks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington (photo credit: REUTERS)
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) (C) talks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Iron pyrite is a mineral with a metallic luster that resembles gold. Also known as fool’s gold, it is actually not related to gold at all. The currently pending Corker-Menendez bill (“the bill”), designed to give Congress some control over the impending Iran deal (“the deal”), displays a remarkable resemblance to iron pyrite.
At first blush, it seems to be just the type of statute needed to allow Congress to weigh in on the deal. If the deal proves to be disastrous, Congress can nix it. What better arrangement could there be? The bill, also known as the Iran Nuclear Agreement Act of 2015, was co-sponsored by a bipartisan team – Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) and former ranking minority member Sen. Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey).
The goal of it was to prevent a bad deal and to provide a web of delays, a few stops, and a poison pill in order to shore up Congress’s ability to review the deal.
Closer examination, however, shows that the bill is just as illusory as iron pyrite.
See the latest opinion pieces on our page
Here’s why: The bill does not do what it should – namely require, in this specific instance, that Congress vote to approve any agreement between Iran and President Barack Obama before it goes into effect, as the Constitution requires for any treaty between the United States and another nation. This bill, essentially, does the reverse. It allows the deal to take effect immediately, unless and until Congress votes to disapprove of it.
Here is an analogy. In the state of Kansas, a 12-year-old girl can get married with the consent of her parents. In general, it may not be a good idea for a 12-year-old girl to get married, but perhaps with the parents’ prior approval, it may be workable. Now imagine if the Kansas marriage law was rewritten to allow any 12-year-old girl to get married on her own, with the sole caveat that six months later her parents could disapprove of the marriage and dissolve it.
Such an arrangement would not be a good idea – neither for the 12-year-old girl nor for the United States – and this is but the first problem with Corker-Menendez.
The second problem is that the bill hands over to the president a newly-contrived path that only serves to help him elevate the status of his Iran deal. It has essentially created a legislative device that lies somewhere between the treaties referred to in our Constitution and a naked executive agreement.
The Constitution states that the president has the right to initiate treaties that commit the United States, but that those treaties are not effective until ratified by a two-thirds vote of the Senate. Precisely because of this limitation, presidents who wish to circumvent Congress avoid the word “treaty” and try to utilize different avenues to achieve their objectives.
In order to implement policy without Congressional input, presidents can make use of what is called an “executive agreement.”
These agreements can be negotiated in a manner that sidesteps Congress, allowing presidents to handle foreign policy by themselves and avoid the “treaty” process mandated by the Constitution.
Executive agreements have limitations.
They can be rescinded by a future president.
The Corker-Menendez bill creates a Congressionally- blessed executive agreement. It has the advantages of a near-treaty because Congress has in essence signed off on a path for the deal. It will now be much more difficult for the next president to undo this executive agreement.
The president needs this bill to give his executive agreement more pizazz and lift, but Congress had other alternatives. Under this “super-charged” executive agreement, Congress has simultaneously blessed the deal now and has muzzled itself for the future. This self-muzzling of Congress is on two fronts. Firstly, the ability to stop sanctions relief and slow down the dismantling of it is going to be much more difficult for Congress to achieve. Secondly, the ability of Congress to add additional sanctions will be severely hampered.
Losing Congress’s voice of dissent by passing the Corker-Menendez bill is neither in the national interest nor in Israel’s interest, notwithstanding AIPAC’s current position supporting the bill.
Those advocating for the bill argue that it is a necessary compromise because the president would have vetoed any other legislation requiring prior approval of a deal and that they in turn did not have the 2/3 votes of Congress that are needed to override that veto.
This assumption of a veto is unclear because there are advantages to the president to have any Congressionally blessed executive agreement. However, what is certain is that under Corker, those who are unsatisfied with the deal will have no recourse. Once the deal is signed, an unsatisfied Congress would by joint resolution disapprove, but the president who entered into the deal would veto that resolution.
Clearly, such a veto would be more sustainable by the president after the deal is signed than against a bill which required prior Congressional approval.
Furthermore, now more than ever an information campaign must be launched to educate the public as to how disastrous it would be to have yet another North Korea.
When a country still views the United States as the Great Satan and has a rallying cry of “Death to the USA”; when it arms terrorist movements to destabilize governments and murder innocents; when it actually succeeds in destabilizing governments – it cannot be allowed to emerge as a regional power replete with nuclear weapons – even if it may be a counterforce to an emerging and ever-growing Islamic State.
Corker-Menendez is a device that provides political cover for Democrats who do not wish to confront the president because the bill, in the final analysis, requires a twothirds vote of Congress to disapprove the deal in order for the deal to be rejected. In the interim, it silences Congress’s voice of dissent and thereby places any would-be campaign against the deal in a veritable strait-jacket.
Corker-Mendendez must be rejected. No bill is better than a bad bill.
The author is mayor of the village of Lawrence, New York, and chairman of the Religious Zionists and of First Lincoln Holdings.