As the Obama administration awaited an official response from Iran as to whether it would abide by a draft plan concerning uranium enrichment, two Pennsylvania lawmakers highlighted efforts on Capitol Hill and in Harrisburg to enact deeper sanctions against the Iranian regime.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and State Rep. Josh Shapiro (D-District 153) touted those efforts during an Oct. 26 news conference held at the Jewish Community Services Building in Philadelphia. Casey and U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) introduced the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act, which would authorize state and local governments -- and their pension funds -- to divest from companies doing business with Iran's energy sector.
The bill passed the House of Representatives on Oct. 14, and is now in the hands of the Senate Banking Committee.
Casey has also co-sponsored a Senate version of the Iran Refined Sanctions Petroleum Act, which would allow the president to impose sanctions on companies that help Iran import or produce refined petroleum (Iran imports 40 percent of its refined petroleum). That bill was slated for debate in the House this week.
Since 2007, Shapiro has advocated that Pennsylvania divest its pension funds from investing in foreign-owned companies that do business with Iran.
His Terror Free Investment act passed the House in 2008, but died in the Senate as the economy went into a tailspin. He's now working on getting more support in the Senate this time around.
A number of Casey supporters and influential Jewish Democrats attended the session. While no Republican lawmakers were there, both Casey and Shapiro stressed that their bills have bipartisan support.
A Jolt of Momentum
Since the revelation that Iran had a secret nuclear facility, sanctions legislation has gotten a jolt of momentum.
Last month, more than 300 Jewish leaders converged in Washington to lobby Congress.
Much appears to depend on Iran's next move.
The draft agreement would require Iran to transfer about 80 percent of its uranium to Russia for additional enrichment, then send it to France to be made into fuel rods for cancer treatment.
Joseph Smukler, a Center City attorney who introduced Shapiro at the event, said that he's worried that, in terms of sanctions, the United States may be stalling and giving Iran time.
He also noted that Iran's cooperation would certainly hamper support for new sanctions, but "if they turn it down, it's a different ballgame."