New START delay – time to secure Senate Republican votes

 In Nuclear Weapons

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry announced his decision this week to delay the vote on the New START treaty until mid-September. The delay has a lot to do with partisan obstructionism and Republican demands for even more money for nuclear modernization. Kerry will need those 6 weeks to get a strong bipartisan consensus on the committee and set it up for a strong floor vote.

Already Republicans and conservatives are trotting out their “Dems are going to try and cram things down our throats” arguments in preparation for the post-election lame duck session. This is all the more reason to get START done before the elections.

In his press release, Senator Kerry explained that he chose to delay the vote in order to gather bipartisan support for the treaty:

Today I informed members of the Foreign Relations Committee that a vote on the New START Treaty will be rescheduled for after the August recess. This was in response to requests from some colleagues for more time to review materials concerning the treaty’s ratification, including reports from the Armed Services and Intelligence committees that have not yet arrived. We have the votes to report the treaty out of Committee now. However, in consultation with Senator Lugar, I chose to reschedule the vote to be responsive to the concerns of our members so that we can build bipartisan consensus around a treaty that our military leaders all agree will make America safer.

But for now, the majority of Senate Republicans are still up-in-the-air. Ploughshares Fund President Joe Cirincione describes the situation:

Lugar, the GOP’s premier arms control expert in the Senate, is the only Republican senator to publicly support New START. Although Lugar stands alone for now, it is appears that several key senators are leaning yes, including Sen. Robert Bennett (R-UT), Sen. Robert Corker (R-TN) and Sen. Jonny Isakson (R-GA).

Unfortunately, those swing votes may hinge on Senator Jon Kyl, who holds strong influence over his fellow Senate Republicans. That allows Kyl to stand in the way of New START support:

Kyl is enforcing party discipline, preventing his colleagues from publically endorsing the treaty until he sees if he can get more money for nuclear weapons. The Administration has already increased the Bush nuclear budget by 15 percent to a whopping $180 billion over the next ten years. Kyl wants more.

On-the-fence Senator Mitch McConnell doesn’t even try to hide the fact that the administration is being forced to “buy” GOP support. In an interview with Reuters, McConnell described how the administration should secure more Republican votes:

All they have to do is find enough money to satisfy Senator Kyl that they are prepared to do what they said they would do… because without that I think the chances of ratification are pretty slim.

Meanwhile, Lugar warns that timing is crucial:

If not [before the election], then whether it works out in December or not is no longer a matter of parliamentary debate, it’s a matter of national security. We ought to vote now and let the chips fall where they may. It’s that important… The problem of the breakdown of our verification, which lapsed December 5, is very serious and impacts our national security.

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