Congress has been on vacation for the last month, but get ready for a blitz of activity when the House and Senate reconvene this week on Capitol Hill.
U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Ga., said Congress has a number of pressing issues to deal with after Labor Day, including transportation funding, the Iran nuclear deal and passing a budget or continuing resolution to avoid a federal-government shutdown.
“Let me tell you — hold on, because it’s going to be a busy few months ’til the end of the year,” Carter said during the Hinesville Rotary Club’s luncheon meeting Tuesday at La Quinta Inn and Suites in Flemington.
Carter represents the 1st Congressional District, which includes Liberty and Long counties.
Transportation funding and overall budget
Before Congress recessed in July, it passed a measure to keep the Highway Trust Fund paid through Oct. 30. Now, Carter said, the goal is to pass a long-term measure “so that the federal government will be a reliable partner with the states.”
“In the past 10 years, we’ve put 33 Band-Aids on the Highway Trust Fund,” he said. “We are committed to getting a long-term bill. Now, how we get there is another question.”
Carter mentioned that the federal gas tax has not been raised since 1993, nor does it have an inflationary adjustment built in, but that “there is not an adjustment in Washington, D.C., to adjust that right now.”
The Senate, he said, wants to use the decreased interest rates the Federal Reserve pays banks to fund transportation.
The House Ways and Means Committee, chaired by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is proposing “repatriation” of money U.S. corporations hold overseas at discounted tax rates so that revenue could be used to fund transportation.
Carter mentioned another possible revenue source: lifting the embargo on the U.S. being able to export oil.
One of the first things Congress will have to act on this month is funding the federal government — something that in recent years has become a series of cliffhanger votes to narrowly avert a partial shutdown of the government and that once, in October 2013, did result in a shutdown.
Iran nuclear deal
In July, the U.S. and five other nations reached an agreement with Iran that is designed to stop the nation from producing a nuclear bomb. Critics of the deal, including Carter, say it really doesn’t stop Iran from producing nuclear weapons.
Congress has until Sept. 17 to approve or disapprove of the deal, or not act. Carter said he anticipates that Congress will vote to disapprove of the agreement and that President Barack Obama will likely veto that measure, meaning the U.S. would officially be a party to the deal.
On Tuesday, Carter said he wasn’t sure whether Congress would have enough votes — a two-thirds majority of the House and Senate — to override the veto. But on Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., became the 34th senator to go on the record to vote to sustain a possible veto, according to national news reports. That means if Carter’s prediction plays out, the veto would be sustained in the Senate.
Carter said the agreement is a “bad deal” because:
• The U.S. signed it even though Iran is still holding four U.S. citizens prisoner.
• The U.S. and allies’ starting point for the negotiations was “anytime, anywhere inspections,” but the agreement now allows Iran 24 days’ notice before an inspection is actually performed of its nuclear facilities.
• Iran has been untrustworthy since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
During a recent trip to Israel as part of a U.S. congressional delegation, Carter said it was noteworthy that not only is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposed to the nuclear deal, but so are opposition leader Isaac Herzog and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.
“The only thing I’m going to ask you to do about this is to pray about it because, folks, this is important — very, very important,” Carter said.
When asked about sequestration — the 2011 budget-cutting measure that led to the recent announcement of a cut of 950 soldiers, plus an untold number of civilian jobs, on Fort Stewart by the end of fiscal-year 2017 — Carter said now is not the time for the U.S. to cut military spending and personnel.
“I do think that there’s some sense up there that the cuts are too deep right now and we’ve got to do something, so I hope we’re going to see some changes in that,” he said.