Banking Committee approves Iran sanctions bill

Washington (CNN)The Senate Banking Committee approved Thursday a bill that would impose additional sanctions on Iran if negotiations to curb the country's nuclear program fail.

The committee's decision brings the bill one step closer to a vote on the Senate floor, but still months away from any chance of passing the legislation after the bill's lead Democratic sponsor, New Jersey's Sen. Bob Menendez, and nine other Democrats vowed to hold off on supporting the bill on the Senate floor. Without those votes, Senate Republicans won't be able to clear a fillibuster-proof majority and it's likely they will hold off on a vote.
Menendez and the bill's Democratic supporters, including the Senate's No. 3 Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer, promised President Barack Obama in a letter Tuesday they would wait until after the March 24 deadline for Iran to agree to a framework agreement. If no agreement is in sight, the group vowed to vote for the sanctions bill -- legislation Obama has threatened to veto.
Menendez, Schumer and four other Democrats joined every Republican on the committee in steering the bill through. Just four Democrats voted against the bill, including the committee's ranking member Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio.
    Brown called Menendez and others' commitment to hold their fire until the March deadline "helpful," but said they should wait until negotiations reach the deadline for a final deal after June.
    "It seems to me that those who have the greatest skepticism about reaching an agreement with Iran should also have the greatest reluctance to do anything to undermine our ability to stiffen sanctions on a multilateral basis should the negotiations fail," Brown said in his opening statement Thursday. "If negotiations fail, Congress and the President will join hands in applying greater pressure. And we will be in a far better position to ask the rest of the world to join us."
    Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, a Republican from Alabama, praised the vote to approve the sanctions bill in a statement Thursday.
    "I am pleased that the Banking Committee has approved legislation in a bipartisan manner that would impose additional sanctions should Iran fail to reach an agreement by the negotiating deadline," Banking committee chairman Sen. Richard Shelby said in a statement. "It is clear that further action is necessary to compel Iran to reach an acceptable agreement, which is why I strongly support this critical bill."