Senate challenges Obama on Iran

Disregarding White House opposition, the Senate unanimously approved new sanctions on Iran as part of its defense bill Thursday night, then passed the bill -- which already faced a veto threat because it requires military custody for certain detainees suspected of terrorism.

The must-pass legislation, which includes a 1.6% pay raise for the troops, needs to be merged with a House bill that President Obama’s advisors also have recommended for a veto. The Senate’s bill passed, 93-7, a margin large enough to override a veto.

The sanctions on financial institutions doing business with Iran came after heated warnings from administration officials that such a move could shake oil prices and jolt the struggling economy.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner expressed the administration’s “strong opposition,” saying the measure threatened to undermine international efforts to pressure Iran to forego its nuclear ambitions and could, in fact, fuel them.

Undeterred, senators passed the sanctions, 100-0.

"This is the right amendment at the right time sending the right message in the face of a very irresponsible regime," said Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), one of the authors.

Senators expressed frustration that the administration had not moved fast enough to curtail financing of Iran’s nuclear activities.

"Given what appears to be a shortening timeline until Iran has a potential nuclear weapon, it would seem that we are not doing enough fast enough," said coauthor Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).

The measure would prohibit institutions that do business with Iran's financial institutions, including its central bank, from maintaining accounts in the U.S. It provides a waiver in the case of U.S. national security matters and requires that studies be done to monitor oil price increases that could rattle the economy.

The annual defense bill, which sets the budget and policy for the Pentagon for the 2012 fiscal year, already faced a veto threat because of the detainee provisions. The administration opposed changing detainee policy that has been in place since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Civil libertarians warn that the detainee provisions give the government far-reaching power to patrol American streets and detain U.S. citizens indefinitely.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) offered an amendment seeking to ensure that U.S. citizens would not be swept up in military detentions in violation of their rights. The amendment passed, 99-1, but it was unclear whether it would satisfy the administration.

Earlier, the Senate rejected an amendment that would have deleted the detainee provisions.

But civil libertarians said Feinstein’s approach did little to prevent sweeping new military authority, which the ACLU called military detention "on steroids."

If signed into law, "American citizens and others are at real risk of being locked away by the military without charge or trial," the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement.

The defense bill authorizes $662 billion for military programs for fiscal 2012, a reduction from current levels. It includes the pay raise for the troops and sets policy on defense spending and military contracts.

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