The original bill passed the Senate 98-2.
Democrats are charging that the Trump administration is pushing House Republicans to delay the measure
The House and Senate are still at odds over a Russia sanctions bill that passed in the Senate last week, in a dispute that Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker described Wednesday as “total silliness.”
The two chambers are quarreling over technical changes that the House Republicans say need to be made in the bill, which passed the Senate 98-2.
But Democrats are charging that the Trump administration is pushing the House to delay the measure because it’s opposed to further sanctions on Russia, as well as language in the bill that would give Congress the ability to review any loosening of sanctions.
“I suspect that the administration does not want this bill to see the light of day because the President always seems to be protecting Vladimir Putin and the Russians,” Rep. Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee told CNN. “If he didn’t act this way then some of the suspicion might go away, but when he acts this way it makes you even more suspicious.”
The Senate bill, which includes sanctions against Iran and Russia, has been held up in the House over what’s called a “blue slip” problem, the constitutional requirement that revenue-generating bills must originate in the House. It’s an issue that has frequently been raised on sanctions measures.
Corker, who helped negotiate the final agreement on the new Russia sanctions, is growing tired of the dispute.
The Tennessee Republican said there were negotiations ongoing to fix a “very minor piece of language” to resolve the blue slip issue. He said that he did not think House Republicans were stalling the measure, but that the problem was between House Republicans and Senate Democrats, noting that Senate Republicans had no issues with the proposed fix.
“We’re at a point now of total silliness,” Corker told reporters. “We may be close, but it’s from my perspective becoming an incredibly silly process.”
The two sides disagree over what’s holding the bill up.
A House GOP aide familiar with the discussions insisted they are only concerned about the “constitutional issues” and are just focused on getting that language fixed.
The aide noted that the House unanimously passed another Russia sanctions bill on Syria, which sanctions those selling weapons to assist fighters in Syria to support the regime, and the Senate has not moved on it yet.
House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce said on Fox News Wednesday that the Senate had an easy fix proposed by the House Ways and Means Committee to re-vote and send the bill back to the House.
“The vote also will be very strong in the House, but we need to have that fix done and the bill sent over, hopefully before the Fourth of July recess,” Royce said.
The California Republican pushed back against Democratic charges that House Republicans would water down the legislation.
“The bill has not been watered down, it’s simply a constitutional issue with respect with all revenue bills have to originate in the House,” he said.
But Democrats charge that the blue slip roadblock is merely a distraction, arguing the House could simply pass the same text as a new House bill and send it back to the Senate for another vote.
A Democratic leadership aide told CNN that Senate Democrats are willing to re-pass the bill with small technical changes, but they are also demanding that House Republicans agree not to make any other changes to the bill.
“We want to know that is good enough for the House and they will pass the bill as is, and we don’t have that assurance from them,” the aide said.
The House and Senate are expected to leave town for a week long recess on Thursday, which means that the bill won’t be taken up in either chamber until July.
Democrats have warned that House Republicans may be raising the procedural issues in an effort to water down or stall the bill on behalf of the White House.
“I wouldn’t be a bit surprised,” Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “I don’t know that personally, but I would be surprised if they haven’t weighed in and that doesn’t account for why there’s been a delay on a bipartisan bill that would come out of the House if we were to vote on it.”
Engel said he spoke with Chairman Ed Royce earlier and they both agreed that they wanted the Senate to tweak the language that some have raised issues about, but not make any other changes to it and the House should pass it “as is.”
He said there was concern that “any tinkering” on other issues would mean “it’s going to die of a thousand cuts.”
Engel said he considered filing his own version of the Russian sanctions bill with almost the exact same wording as the Senate passed but without the language that caused some to raise Constitutional issues. He said he would give the Senate “a week at most” to fix the issue.