Congressional Monitor
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CongressionalMonitor.org, the companion site to this JPS section, provides in-depth summaries of all bills and many resolutions listed here.

Published each spring, the Congressional Monitor provides summaries of all relevant bills and resolutions (joint, concurrent, and simple) introduced during the previous session of Congress that mention, even briefly, Palestine, Israel, or the broader Arab-Israeli conflict. It is part of a wider project of the Institute for Palestine Studies that includes the Congressional Monitor Database available at CongressionalMonitor.org.

The database contains all relevant legislation from the 107th Congress through the first session of the 111th Congress (2001–2009) and will be updated on an ongoing basis to include legislation prior to 2001 and after 2009. You'll also find an in-depth set of FAQs which provide a guide to the database, how to use it, and the legislative process.

The Monitor helps to identify major themes of legislation related to the Palestine issue as well as initiators of specific legislation, their priorities, the range of their concerns, and their attitudes toward the regional actors. Material in this compilation is drawn from www.thomas.loc.gov, where readers can also find a detailed primer on the legislative process entitled “How Our Laws Are Made.”

The first session of the 111th Congress convened on 6 January 2009 and adjourned on 24 December of the same year. A total of 108 bills and resolutions relating to Palestine, Israel, or the wider Arab-Israeli conflict were introduced this session, representing roughly 1% of bills and resolutions introduced this term. Twenty-four of the 108 were passed.

Democrats enjoyed wide majorities in both chambers this session following victories in the fall 2008 elections, which also saw the election of Democrat Barack Obama as president. In 2009, Democrats held 59 seats in the Senate (supplemented by two Independent senators, who caucus with them) to the Republicans’ 39, and 257 seats in the House to the Republicans’ 178. In this session, a number of measures were introduced by conservative Republicans aimed at restricting U.S. relief efforts (such as aid for Gaza in the wake of Operation Cast Lead) and at pressuring the Obama administration to take a harder line toward Iran and other U.S. opponents in the region (see especially H.R. 3832 of 10/15/09, the Peace Through Strength Act).

Many of these efforts dovetailed with aggressive Republican opposition to domestic Democratic legislative initiatives. Some, such as an amendment to prohibit reconstruction assistance to Gaza until assurances could be secured that it would not be diverted to Hamas (S. Amendment 631 to H.R. 1105 of 2/23/09), drew support from some otherwise moderate Democrats. Other initiatives demonstrate the degree to which Democrats and Republicans remained in alignment with respect to Israel-Palestine.

Bills and Joint Resolutions

Sixty-three of the 108 measures introduced this session were bills or joint resolutions that have the force of law if passed. Six of these, each involving funding for Israel, were passed by both the House and Senate and signed into law by President Obama. The National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 2647 of 6/2/09) granted legal authority for the Defense Department to conduct joint research and development with Israel for Israeli missile defense systems, while the Department of Defense Appropriations Act (H.R. 3326 of 7/24/09) provided funding for these programs (see “Notes on Legislative Procedure” below for more on the distinction between authorization and appropriation bills).

The annual funding bill for U.S. agricultural agencies and programs (H.R. 2997 of 6/23/09) contained an earmark providing funding to the Ohio-Israel Initiative, a project promoting technical and economic cooperation between farmers and agriculture firms in Ohio and the Negev.

The remaining three bills provided funding for the State Department and U.S. foreign assistance programs for fiscal year 2009 (H.R. 1105 of 2/23/09 and H.R. 2346 of 5/12/09) and fiscal year 2010 (H.R. 3288 of 7/22/09). All three of these bills provided grants for Israel to purchase military equipment from the United States (and, significantly, from Israeli defense contractors; see these bills for explanation) at levels agreed to in the August 2007 Memorandum of Understanding between the two governments.

The foreign aid bills also provided assistance to the Palestinian Authority and financed other aid programs in the West Bank and Gaza. The Supplemental Appropriations Act (H.R. 2346 of 5/12/09) provided a large aid package pledged by the Obama administration in the wake of Operation Cast Lead. Funding measures for West Bank and Gaza programs, especially for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and programs in Gaza, were passed despite repeated attempts by the Republican right to cut the funding entirely or greatly restrict it for fear that it would aid Hamas or other terrorist groups (see amendments SA 631 and SA 657 to H.R. 1105 of 2/23/09 below, as well as H.R. 557 of 1/15/09, H.R. 1062 of 2/13/09, H.R. 2475 of 5/19/09, and amendments 44, 60, and 83 to H.R. 3081 of 6/26/09 online at CongressionalMonitor.org).

Congressional Priorities: Iran, Terrorism, and the Holocaust

Of all the bills and joint resolutions relevant to Israel-Palestine introduced this session, 25 (40%) sought to provide military, financial, or diplomatic aid for Israel or to otherwise confer privileges on the Israeli government, Israeli citizens, or Israeli exports. In addition to the six bills passed into law, other bills sought to set U.S. policy to pursue a nuclear power cooperation agreement with Israel (H.R. 2475 of 5/19/09); amend U.S. arms export control laws to allow expedited arms sales to Israel (H.R. 2410 of 5/12/09 and H.R. 2475 of 5/19/09); provide diplomatic support for Israel at the United Nations, specifically in the Human Rights Council (H.R. 2376 of 5/12/09) and with regard to the Durban Review Conference (H.R. 1920 of 4/2/09 and H.R. 3231 of 7/16/09); provide privileged immigration status for Israeli citizens seeking to conduct business in the United States (H.R. 4406 of 12/6/09); allow Israeli prescription medications to be imported to the U.S. (S. 80 of 1/6/09); exempt Israeli citizens from the prohibition on the U.S. government employing foreign nationals (H.R. 3170 of 7/10/09); and eliminate the duty on a type of Israeli tobacco (S. 2042 of 10/29/09).

Another major priority this session was Iran, with a number of bills introduced to impose sanctions aimed at stopping its nuclear program. Two of these bills, the Senate and House versions of the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act (S. 908 of 4/28/09 and H.R. 2194 of 4/30/09), which would require the president to impose sanctions designed to cripple the Iranian economy, were the primary focus of American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) lobbying efforts this session. These two bills had (and still have) overwhelming support in both chambers; their passage was delayed only to allow the Obama administration time to address Iran’s nuclear program diplomatically.

Other bills sought to declare U.S. policy to be in support of Israel’s right to defend itself from Iran, where self-defense is interpreted to include a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities (H.R. 2475 of 5/19/09 and H.R. 3832 of 10/15/09); or invoked the Iranian threat to Israel to authorize the Defense Department to develop ballistic missile defense systems for Israel (H.R. 2410 of 5/14/09, H.R. 2475 of 5/19/09, and H.R. 2647 of 6/2/09).

Twenty-two bills (35% of relevant bills) dealing with terrorism were introduced, the most important of which being the three appropriations bills passed into law providing aid to the West Bank, Gaza, and Lebanon (H.R. 1105 of 2/23/09, H.R. 2346 of 5/12/09, and H.R. 3288 of 7/22/09). These bills provided money to train Palestinian security forces and to train and equip Lebanese security forces to conduct counter-terror operations. These bills also contained numerous provisions placing conditions on the aid to ensure that it does not go to terrorist groups.

Other bills sought to impose sanctions on North Korea (S. 837 of 4/20/09, H.R. 1980 of 4/21/09, and S. 1416 of 7/8/09), Saudi Arabia (H.R. 1288 of 3/3/09), and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (H.R. 2375 of 5/12/09), and to continue sanctions against Syria (H.R. 1206 of 2/26/09), until these countries ceased support for Hamas, Hizballah, and others; withhold funding for UNRWA until the secretary of state certifies that the Agency does not employ or aid terrorists (H.R. 557 of 1/15/09); and prohibit funding for the United Nations Human Rights Council since it has failed to condemn nations that sponsor terrorism (H.R. 2376 of 5/12/09).

Thirteen bills (20% of relevant bills) dealt with the Holocaust, including three to allow U.S. courts to hear cases brought by Holocaust survivors or their heirs seeking restitution from railroads that transported people to concentration camps (S. 28 of 1/7/09 and H.R. 4237 of 12/8/09) or to recover unpaid Holocaust-era insurance policies (Title XV of H.R. 2475 of 5/19/09).

Others sought to establish a commission to review the U.S. government’s decision to deny asylum to Jewish and other refugees fleeing Europe during the Holocaust (H.R. 1425 and S. 564 both of 3/10/09); encourage foreign governments to try or extradite Nazi war criminals (H.R. 1439 of 3/11/09 and S. 1704 of 9/24/09); or provide funding for Holocaust education programs (H.R. 2089 and S. 892 both of 4/23/09) or for the Museum of the History of Polish Jews (H.R. 1590 of 3/18/09). Another cited Iranian pres. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s denials of the Holocaust as reason to impose crippling economic sanctions on Iran and ensure that the U.S. possesses the military means to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons (H.R. 3832 of 10/15/09).

Simple and Concurrent Resolutions

In addition to the measures that have the force of law if passed, 45 simple and concurrent resolutions were introduced this session. Simple resolutions (designated H./S. Res.) are debated and passed in only one chamber, while concurrent resolutions (designated H./S. Con. Res.) are debated and passed by both chambers. Neither type of resolution is presented to the president for signature or veto, and thus neither can become law. Pertinent here are resolutions used to express the views, opinions, and (on occasion) the demands of Congress. (Resolutions are also used to set parliamentary rules and procedures for each chamber.) A resolution passed in one or both chambers not only represents the opinion of one chamber or the legislative branch as a whole, but in most cases the opinion of one or both political parties and their leadership. While not legally binding, then, resolutions can carry significant political weight.

When the 111th Congress convened, Operation Cast Lead was still underway, and four resolutions were introduced in the first four days of the session declaring “strong support for Israel,” recognizing its right to defend itself from Hamas’s “unceasing aggression,” and condemning Hamas’s rocket attacks. The two most important of these measures, H. Res. 34 and S. Res. 10 (both of 1/8/09), were introduced by the top Democratic leaders in the House and Senate and passed overwhelmingly within one day. One additional resolution called for an immediate cease-fire and for Israel and Hamas to allow unrestricted humanitarian assistance to Gazans (H. Res. 66 of 1/15/09). Later in the session another resolution was passed deeming the Goldstone report irredeemably biased and calling on the Obama administration to oppose it in all international fora.

The most common theme of resolutions this session, however, was Iran, with twelve introduced (27% of all relevant resolutions). Among these, four resolutions addressed the lack of religious freedom in Iran, with three condemning its persecution of its Baha’i minority as agents of Israel (H. Res. 175 of 2/13/09, S. Res. 71 of 3/9/09, and H. Res. 840 of 10/15/09) and two citing Ahmadinejad’s denial of the Holocaust and statements against Israel as having created a climate of fear among Iranian Jews (H. Res. 33 of 1/8/09 and H. Res. 840 mentioned above). Two resolutions cited Iran’s possession of ballistic missiles capable of striking Israel as justification for calls for President Obama to deploy ballistic missile defenses in Europe (H. Res. 319 of 4/2/09 and H. Res. 581 of 6/25/09), and one expressed support for Israel’s right to defend itself from an imminent threat posed by Iran (H. Res. 557 of 6/18/09).

Eleven resolutions (24% of relevant resolutions) dealt with the Holocaust, with three urging European countries to compensate Holocaust victims for lost property (H. Con. Res. 89 of 3/30/09, S. Res. 153 of 5/19/09, and S. Con. Res. 23 of 5/19/09) and others commemorating specific events or individuals, and permitting the use of the Capitol rotunda to hold a Holocaust remembrance ceremony.

Ten resolutions addressed the topic of terrorism, of which three passed. Four resolutions, mentioned above, addressed terrorism leading up to and during Operation Cast Lead. Further resolutions expressed support for Israel’s right to defend itself from imminent threats from terrorist organizations and states that harbor them (H. Res. 557 mentioned above), called on the president to designate Venezuela as a state sponsor of terrorism for its support of Iran and Hizballah (H. Res. 872 of 10/27/09), and called on the secretary of state to take measures to certify that UNRWA is not using American funds to support terrorism (H. Con. Res. 29 of 1/28/09).

Notes on Legislative Procedure

In terms of process, for a bill to become law it must be agreed to in identical form by the House and the Senate, and signed by the president. The president may refuse to sign and thus veto a bill, but the veto can be overturned by a two-thirds majority vote in each chamber. If Congress is not in session, the president can veto a bill simply by not taking action for ten days after its presentation. (This action is called a “pocket veto.”) As already noted, simple or concurrent resolutions have no legal force if passed. Simple resolutions can be passed by either the House or the Senate, whereas both chambers must pass concurrent resolutions.

Among the most important bills passed by Congress are authorization and appropriations bills. Authorization bills provide the legal authority for federal agencies and departments to exist and carry out their various programs. Appropriations bills allow agencies to draw funds from the U.S. Treasury in order to pay for their activities.

Understanding the Congressional Monitor

Presented here is a list of all relevant bills and resolutions introduced in 2009. Measures are listed in the order in which they were first introduced, with a brief title provided after the date. The second line of each entry provides the bill or resolution number, the name and affiliation of the original sponsor, and the number of cosponsors.

Due to the large number of bills and resolutions introduced this session and to our space limitations, summaries are provided only for those bills that passed into law this session or for bills or resolutions whose context or relevance is not clear. In-depth summaries of all bills and most resolutions are available at CongressionalMonitor.org, IPS’s online database of bills and resolutions from 2001 forward dealing with Palestine, Israel, and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

For many bills and resolutions, a “See also” entry has been added to refer readers to similar or related measures. Under this entry, measures listed in boldface contain text that is similar or identical and also include a summary description.

The “Last major action” entry indicates where the bill or resolution stood at the end of the session in December 2009. Until the Congress ends in 2011 or the measure is passed or withdrawn, it remains “live” and can be amended repeatedly. Various versions of legislative initiatives are often in play simultaneously, and the differences are reconciled in the final passage. For example, the House version of the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act (H.R. 2194 of 4/30/09) was amended by the Senate in March 2010 to include the text of the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2009 (S. 2799 of 11/19/09), and is likely to be amended further and passed later in 2010.

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