The House of Representatives reconvened in Washington last Tuesday.  The Senate reconvenes today.  President Barack Obama will address a joint session of Congress on Tuesday when he gives the annual State of the Union.  Last week, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget announced the President would release his Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 Budget Request on 9 February.

Iran

U.S. lawmakers continue to advocate for new sanctions to be imposed on Iran for violations of U.N. Security Council Resolutions when it tested a ballistic missile in October 2015.  The Obama Administration, however, is making every effort to secure implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and President Obama is expected to veto any sanctions legislation that may threaten the agreement.  The Administration is expected to ease sanctions under the terms of the JCPOA in the first quarter of 2016, after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) certifies that Iran has met its commitments under the deal.

On Wednesday, the House of Representatives (“the House”) will consider the Iran Terror Finance Transparency Act (H.R. 3662).  The measure was introduced by Representative Steve Russell (R-Oklahoma) and would block the Obama Administration from lifting sanctions against certain individuals or banks without certification that they do not support terrorism, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, or Iran’s alleged proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.  Numerous other Iran-related bills remain pending in both chambers of Congress, including nonbinding legislation that would express support for state and local government sanctions against Iran.

North Korea

Lawmakers are also expected to advance additional North Korea sanctions in early 2016, following reports of nuclear testing soon after the New Year.  The House will consider a bill (H.R. 757) today that was introduced by Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-California) in 2015.  The measure seeks to curtail North Korea’s access to the international financial system and would make mandatory some sanctions authorities that are currently discretionary.

  • Today, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to hold a closed hearing titled, “Assessing the Recent North Korea Nuclear Event.”
  • On Wednesday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee is expected to hold a hearing titled, “The U.S. Response to North Korea’s Nuclear Provocations.”

Syria – ISIL

Despite Saudi Arabia severing diplomatic ties with Iran, representatives from both countries said to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last week that they do not see the diplomatic row impacting the ongoing Syrian peace talks.  Meanwhile, the Syrian regime has indicated it is ready to participate in the upcoming 25 January Geneva talks, while also calling for the names of the Syrian opposition figures who will take part in the discussions.  In the context of seeking to deny foreign terrorist organizations the ability to use the Internet to further their recruitment or messaging activities, the Obama Administration met last week with Silicon Valley leaders to discuss this matter and encryption.

  • On Tuesday, the House Armed Services Committee is expected to hold a hearing titled, “Outside Views on the U.S. Strategy for Iraq and Syria and the Evolution of Islamic Extremism.”

TPP Developments

At a time yet unknown, the Administration will submit implementing legislation to Congress, kick starting the Trade Promotion Authority’s (TPA) fast-track procedures.  While cementing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement remains a critical tenant of President Obama’s pivot to Asia and foreign policy legacy more broadly, it is unclear whether he will secure enough Congressional support for a vote before he leaves office, given trade can be a hot topic during an election year and lawmakers have already voiced concerns with several of the agreement’s final provisions.  Many major trade and business associations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers, waited until early January to announce conditioned support of the deal, while a number of lawmakers remain reluctant to publicly support the measure over a variety of issues.

Last Thursday, House Ways and Means Ranking Member Sander Levin (D-Michigan), along with the Committee’s Democratic members, held another TPP-related informal hearing focused on currency manipulation.  The Committee’s Democratic trade staff prepared an issue analysis paper that was circulated at the hearing.

Last Friday, the White House announced President Obama will host Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on 19 January.  Topics of discussion will include the TPP agreement, developments in Asia and the Pacific region, and other bilateral and global issues.

Customs Bill Update

While the Senate and House conferenced a pending customs measure in December, the bill was unexpectedly sidelined over objections to included language permanently extending a ban on some Internet taxes.  The House already approved the measure, but the ban’s opponents in the Senate are expected to raise a point of order to strike the tax provision and send the conference report back to the House.  The final customs bill includes updates to trade enforcement procedures that some Democrats argue must become law before TPP enters into force.

South Africa

The United States and South Africa reached an agreement last Thursday that resolves outstanding technical issues related to market access for U.S. exports of poultry, beef and pork.  This agreement is expected to avert the looming U.S. threat to suspend South Africa’s duty preferences for agricultural products under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), if a final benchmark is met.  Ambassador Froman said in a statement, “While we celebrate the progress we have made in resolving the outstanding technical issues, the true test of our success will be based on the ability of South African consumers to buy American product in local stores.”

Other Congressional Hearings This Week

  • On Tuesday, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific will mark-up the following bills: (1) H. Res. 343, expressing concern regarding persistent and credible reports of systematic, state-sanctioned organ harvesting from non-consenting prisoners of conscience in the People’s Republic of China, including from large numbers of Falun Gong practitioners; (2) H. Res. 374, recognizing the 50th anniversary of Singaporean independence and reaffirming Singapore’s close partnership with the United States; and (3) Res. 339, expressing the sense of the House of Representatives regarding the 25th  anniversary of democracy in Mongolia.
  • On Tuesday, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific is expected to hold a hearing titled, “Human Rights in China: The 2015 Annual Report of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.”
  • On Wednesday, the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee is expected to hold a hearing titled, “National Academies Study on Peer Review and Design Competition in the NNSA National Security Laboratories.”
  • On Wednesday, the House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee is expected to hold a hearing titled, “Effects of Reduced Infrastructure and Base Operating Support Investments on Air Force Readiness.”
  • On Wednesday, the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee is expected to hold a hearing titled, “Views on Commissary Reform.”

Looking Ahead

Washington is expected to focus on the following upcoming events:

  • 11 January 2016:  The Senate reconvenes in Washington
  • 12 January 2016:  President Obama’s State of the Union Address
  • 19 January 2016:  President Obama hosts Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull
  • 9 February 2016:  President Obama releases the FY 2017 Budget Request
  • 4 February 2016:   President Obama hosts Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos
  • 15-16 February 2016:  President Obama hosts the ASEAN leaders in California
  • 10 March 2016:  President Obama hosts Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
  • Late April 2016:  President Obama attends the Hannover Messe in Germany
  • 8-9 July 2016:  NATO Summit in Warsaw, Poland