A Step toward New START

, Washington representative and senior analyst | December 16, 2010, 11:21 am EDT
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The effort to gain Senate “advice and consent” on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) achieved an important milestone yesterday. In a bipartisan vote, 57 Democrats and nine Republicans voted in favor of considering the treaty. This procedural vote was a trial run of the Senate’s take on New START, and it passed that test.

Nine Republicans – Senators Collins, Voinivich, Lugar, Brown, Graham, McCain, Snowe, Bennett, and Murkowski – voted to debate New START. That matches exactly the number required to ensure the Senate supports ratification of the treaty, given the reasonable assumption that all Democrats (and two independents) will support the treaty. That is, the vote garnered the approval of two-thirds of present Senators, the level needed when New START – or more specifically the treaty’s “resolution of ratification” – actually comes up for a vote. (Senator Evan Bayh, a Democrat, would have cast the 67th vote in favor had he been in attendance.)

This is a notable achievement on the path to entry into force for the treaty, and the resumption of on-site verification in Russia.

Shortly after this outcome, twelve Republican senators led by Sen. Kyl spoke out against pursuing a final vote on the treaty during this session of Congress, even though several noted they would like to support New START. The senators claimed again and again there is not time to consider the treaty.

This argument fails on two accounts. First, as frequently noted, Senate ratification of the first START treaty in the early 1990s took five days of Senate floor time. That ground-breaking agreement, achieved at a time when relations between the Soviet Union and the United States were tenuous at best, was a trendsetter. New START fits nicely into its predecessor’s mold. It is hard to understand how Senator Kyl can justify claims that two weeks of debate will be required on this modest but valuable treaty.

Second, as Senator Kerry highlighted, it is Senate Republicans who time and again have sought to delay consideration of the treaty. Kerry noted that 13 times Republicans had formally asked Senator Lugar to postpone consideration of the treaty, to allow Senator Kyl more time to negotiate with the administration over funding for modernization. In one example, despite Senator Lugar’s public calls to proceed to the vote immediately, Senator Kerry postponed consideration of the treaty by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee until after the August recess at the request of Senators Corker and Isakson.

Those delays were granted, and the administration negotiated in good faith—finally reaching a result that even Senator Kyl agreed was acceptable.

In the face of claims of lack of time, the Senate leadership has been very clear: it will give the treaty as much time as it needs, as long as the debate is progressing. Even assuming days off around Christmas and New Years, there are more than two weeks of debating time available.

So here’s the situation: Delays have been granted to allow the Senate and White House to deal with key issues. The Senate has had eight months to read the treaty, and it has not been a surprise that a vote was coming up. There has been ongoing debate and discussion in the Senate. As Lisbeth Gronlund, co-director of the Global Security Program at UCS, noted in a statement:

After nearly 20 hearings, numerous briefings and detailed answers from the administration to more than 1,000 questions submitted by the Senate, the treaty has been fully vetted. Every senator has the necessary information and more than enough time to properly carry out his or her constitutional responsibility of ‘advice and consent.

Calls for further delays at this point and claims that the administration is rushing the treaty through simply ring hollow. Now is the time for all good men (and women) to come to the aid of their country, and pass New START.

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