Congress reconvenes next Tuesday after a five-week recess, and there are some weighty and urgent matters to attend to.
Among these, a vote on the Iran Nuclear Agreement; an Oct. 1 deadline to fund the government amid threats of another federal shutdown if Planned Parenthood is part of the legislation; resurrecting a massive and perhaps permanent transportation bill that has been temporarily extended 34 times since 2009; and yet another debt ceiling fiscal cliff.
Joining us tonight to share their thoughts on these and other issues are Congressman Bill Foster, a Democrat representing Illinois' 11th District, which includes Aurora, Naperville, and Joliet, among other areas; and Congressman Peter Roskam, a Republican representing Illinois' 6th District, which includes Barrington, West Chicago, and Downers Grove as well as other communities.
Exploring the issues
Iran Nuclear deal
After more than 20 months of negotiations, a landmark deal was reached July 14 between world powers and Iran that curbs Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the easing of economic sanctions.
The deal reduces Iran’s stockpiles of enriched uranium. Currently, Iran has two uranium enrichment facilities: Natanz and Fordow. According to the U.S. government, Iran has a uranium stockpile that could create eight to 10 nuclear bombs. Under the nuclear deal, Iran must reduce its stockpile by 98 percent and will keep its level of uranium enrichment at 3.67 percent– a level significantly below what is needed to create a nuclear bomb.
Under the agreement, Iran will also have to reduce its number of centrifuges by two-thirds for the next 10 years.
The landmark deal also prevents Iran from producing weapons-grade plutonium, which is another chemical element that could be used to build a nuclear bomb.
U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam (R-6th District) blasted the deal in a press release:
“The final agreement reached today marks a U-turn on economic sanctions that were working to cripple Iran’s economy and force meaningful, permanent concessions from the regime. In fact, this deal all but ensures Iran will become a nuclear power in our lifetime, defeating from the outset the Obama administration’s own long-stated goal of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran….
“In the coming years, Tehran will receive billions in additional sanctions relief and regain the ability to buy and sell not only conventional weapons, but also ballistic missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead—all with explicit support of the U.S government, until now an unthinkable proposition. Meanwhile, most nuclear restraints under this deal will soon expire, leaving the mullahs with a revitalized economy and a cleared path to a bomb.”
Following the deal’s announcement, U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (D-11th District) did not take a position on the deal, saying in a statement:
“I commend President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and Secretary Moniz for their tireless efforts that have led to this historic agreement. A nuclear armed Iran is not acceptable. As the only Ph.D. scientist in Congress, I will continue to be fully engaged on the Congressional oversight of the technical details of the proposed Iran nuclear agreement. This agreement should be based on verification, not trust, and the technical details are crucial."
Since then Foster has had 14 classified briefings on the deal, according to an interview with Bill Cameron on WLS-AM 890, and has been reviewing the technical side of the deal.
Foster says he’s been looking for a flaw in the deal, “something the Iranians can drive a truck through,” but hasn’t found it yet. He still has yet to state which way he would vote on the deal.
Planned Parenthood funding
Earlier this summer a series of clandestine videos that seemingly expose Planned Parenthood officials’ cavalier attitudes towards buying and selling fetal tissue for profit were released, putting the organizations federal funding in jeopardy.
Planned Parenthood has apologized for the seemingly insensitive statements made in the videos and denied any wrongdoing in contributing fetal tissue for research.
In an Aug. 27 letter to Congress, the organization explains the 1993 law on fetal tissue research and its role in the research:
“Our few participating affiliates can offer tissue donation services in two ways: through tissue procurement organizations (TPOs) which have been the focus of the recent public debate, or as partners or participants in research studies being conducted by major research programs connected to some of our nation’s most prestigious universities, medical schools, and research laboratories.
Today, only one affiliate (in California) is involved with fetal tissue research working through a TPO. That affiliate also has a separate relationship with the University of California. A second affiliate is involved with fetal tissue research working with the University of Washington. Altogether, the health centers at the affiliates involved with fetal tissue research represent 1% of our centers. Stated the other way, 99% of our health centers do not offer women the opportunity to be involved with fetal tissue research.”
While Republicans have vowed to defund Planned Parenthood, a bill drafted by Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell failed in the Senate (53-46), falling short of the 60 votes needed to move it forward.
On Monday, McConnell said Republican efforts to defund the organization would fail, according to the Huffington Post.
Highway Trust Fund extension
A three-month stopgap measure will keep the Highway Trust Fund running through Oct. 29. The fund reimburses states for work on roads, bridges and tunnels, and is primarily funded by federal taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel.
While the fund is healthy enough to maintain solvency through the third quarter of FY2016, “the lapse in authorization prevents new obligations in Highway and Transit programs and impacts reimbursements to the States,” according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
“Most folks recognize the transportation fund, the highway fund needs more money. The question is, how do you get that? Right now there’s a very serious effort that’s underway that says, ‘look, we’ve got $2 trillion that are locked out of the United States because of a tax policy that locks out worldwide American companies and their profits overseas,’” Roskam said. “Let’s lower that tax rate—it’s called repatriation when it comes home—that’s new money, it’s found money. The White House is giving a lot of go signals on this that they’re interested in it. We could lower that rate, repatriate the money, the money that then comes in is then dedicated strictly to transportation, and I think it’s a winning combination.”
Raising the debt ceiling
The United States will likely reach its $18.1 trillion debt limit as early as mid-November or early December, according to a press release from the Congressional Budget Office.
“Look, you always got to look at the debt ceiling discussion in the context of other changes that have been made, other savings. So, I think the only thing that you want to avoid is simply saying we’re just going to simply raise it willy-nilly no matter what,” Roskam said. “We’ve got a $17 trillion debt obligation, and we don’t want the state of Illinois to be the example for the federal government. The state is an example of what not to do based on bad leadership, avoidance behavior. We can’t do that anymore.”
Foster cautioned against not raising the debt ceiling as a matter of principle.
“People remember what happened the last time we had a default crisis in this country. The stock market lost $3 trillion in value, the United States got its credit downgraded for the first time in human memory, and so I’m very worried that we’re going to head back into this simply because so many members—some on my colleague’s side of the aisle—have basically run on a platform of pledging not to raise the debt ceiling, not paying the bills that the United States has incurred,” he said.
America’s heroin problem
Heroin use has become an epidemic in the United States, with increased use of the drug by men and women of various ages across all income levels, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2013, more than 8,200 people died from a heroin-related overdose, according to the CDC, a number that has nearly quadrupled since 2002.
In Illinois, 633 people died last year from overdosing on the highly addictive opioid, up from 583 in 2013. Chicago Tonight examined the local rise of heroin use earlier this summer.
On Monday, Foster tweeted that he learned how to administer naloxone, a drug used to reverse the side effects of an opioid overdose, at an International Overdose Awareness Day.
While Roskam hasn’t declared which Republican candidate he’d endorse, he said it’s “interesting” that Donald Trump is the GOP frontrunner.
“It’s supposed to be miserable to become the nominee of a major party and it is. So you’ve got 15 people on the Republican side, you’ve got an heir-apparent, Hillary Clinton, who thought it was going to be open field running and it’s not for her, so let’s see who ends up being the nominees of both of these parties… what Americans expect is for their leadership to go through an arduous process to become the nominee, arduous general election, and then you’ve got to take on Vladimir Putin, the mullahs and ISIS.”
Foster has already made his endorsement for president.
“I’ve endorsed Hillary Clinton. She’s going to make a great president. I’ve been impressed with the difference in the nature of the debate taking place on the Democratic and Republican side. On the Democratic side, we’re having thoughtful debate about the real problems.”
President Obama’s visit to the Arctic Circle
This week, President Barack Obama will become the first sitting president to visit the Arctic Circle during his three-day tour of Alaska in an effort to call for action on climate change.
On Monday, Obama spoke before the Conference on Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement & Resilience (GLACIER) about climate change, specifically its impact on the Arctic.
“In fact, the Arctic is the leading edge of climate change -- our leading indicator of what the entire planet faces. Arctic temperatures are rising about twice as fast as the global average,” Obama said in his speech. “Over the past 60 years, Alaska has warmed about twice as fast as the rest of the United States. Last year was Alaska’s warmest year on record -- just as it was for the rest of the world. And the impacts here are very real.”
The president went on to say that climate change is not a problem to be dealt with in the future.
“But the point is that climate change is no longer some far-off problem. It is happening here. It is happening now. Climate change is already disrupting our agriculture and ecosystems, our water and food supplies, our energy, our infrastructure, human health, human safety – now,” he said. “Today. And climate change is a trend that affects all trends -- economic trends, security trends. Everything will be impacted. And it becomes more dramatic with each passing year.”
Watch his speech in the video below.
Pope’s address to Congress
On Thursday, Sept. 24, Pope Francis will address a joint session of Congress. It will mark the first time the leader of the Roman Catholic Church will have addressed Congress, according to Politico.
The announcement of the pope’s upcoming visit was welcomed by both Democrats and Republicans.