For Jewish and pro-Israel groups, the congressional year is ending with an odd reversal: the prospect, however fragile, of bipartisan comity on budget issues coupled with a rare partisan disagreement on Middle Eastern policy.
The groups that deal with social welfare and justice issues are heartened, albeit warily, by the end-of-year budget forged by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Budget Committee, and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), his Senate counterpart.
Meanwhile, pronounced differences are emerging in the bipartisan coalition that over the last decade has shaped the tough sanctions that helped compel Iran to join talks aimed at ensuring it does not obtain a nuclear weapon. Democrats are heeding White House pleas to lay low while the talks get underway, while Republicans are eager to advance legislation that would influence any final deal.
The differences were at the heart of a breakdown last week in talks between Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the Republican majority leader in the House, and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the minority whip, to craft a nonbinding resolution that would have recommended additional Iran sanctions.
Hoyer, congressional insiders said, was under pressure from the White House and Democrats not to undercut sensitive talks. Additionally, Cantor’s language appeared to overreach, especially in calling for an end to Iran’s uranium enrichment capability as part of a final deal — an expectation that Obama administration officials have said is unrealistic.
The disagreement heralds a shift in how Democrats treat pro-Israel issues, according to officials of Jewish groups that have advocated a softer line in dealing with Iran.
“Mr. Hoyer obviously made a decision as a leader in his caucus that a substantial number in his caucus weren’t going to support a hawkish statement that undermines the prospects for a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear program,” said Dylan Williams, the legislative director for J Street.