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August 03, 2010

The September Vote
Posted by Kelsey Hartigan

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will vote on the New START Treaty when Senators return from recess in September.  Sen. Kerry released a statement today, saying, “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.” 

Through months of hearings, Senators have meticulously reviewed the treaty and its accompanying documents.  An impressive record of bipartisan support has been built by Sens. Kerry and Lugar, who have worked with their colleagues on the Committee and elsewhere to answer questions and facilitate the passage of this important treaty. 

Once New START is voted out of committee, the treaty will move to the full Senate where 67 votes are needed.  In an interview with the Cable, Sen. Lugar highlighted the importance of finding the floor time to ratify the agreement, and of doing so quickly.  "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," he said, citing the fact that U.S. inspectors have not been able to verify Russian behavior regarding nuclear weapons deployment since the original START agreement expired late last year. "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," Lugar said. Members may want to take extra time to consider the treaty, but if they are really concerned about Russian activity, ratifying the treaty is the way to address that, he added.

New START has the unanimous support of America’s military leadership.  Prominent national security experts have come out in spades to support this treaty and call for its quick passage.  Even in this partisan environment, Senators from both sides of the aisle have expressed interest in supporting New START.  Last week during a Senate Armed Services hearing, Sen. Lieberman (I-CT) explained that he, like others, hope to support New START.  “Most people I talk to, members in the Senate, would like to get to a point of a vote to advise and consent to the new START treaty. I certainly would,” Lieberman said.   

Sen. Lieberman and other GOP senators have indicated that if the price is right for funding our nuclear complex, they will support the treaty.  Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said earlier this week during an interview with Reuters, “The only way this treaty gets in trouble is if it’s rushed.”  McConnell continued, “My advice to the president was, don’t try to jam it, answer all the requests, and let’s take our time and do it right,” he said. “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,” he said.  “If it’s important to you, you can find a way, in an over a trillion dollar discretionary budget to fund it. In my view they need to do that, because without that I think the chances of ratification are pretty slim,” McConnell said.

Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT) has also said that he wants to vote for the treaty, but is waiting for the final nod from his leadership. "I'm waiting for Senator Kyl to finish his analysis, but he's leaning yes and I'm leaning yes," Bennett said.  In an interview with Laura Rozen, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) “was, overall, somewhat encouraging about prospects for START ratification. He said with a more detailed administration commitment to modernizing U.S. nuclear facilities and language in a resolution that clarifies that the treaty does not restrict U.S. missile defenses, he would be comfortable with it. “To me there’s a way to get there to quell the concerns of people regarding this point,” Sen. Corker explained.

Senators will have the next six weeks to review the advice of our nation’s most respected national security experts.  As Sen. Kerry explained in his letter to committee members, the record is clear:

We had the opportunity to hear from—and to question—the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of State, the head of U.S. Strategic Command, and the director of the Missile Defense Agency. In our effort to provide a wide range of views, we heard from high-ranking members of the Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, and Bush 43 administrations. We also heard from the directors of the nation’s three nuclear weapons laboratories, and received written testimony from the man who oversaw them for President George W. Bush. We had a closed hearing with high-ranking intelligence officials. And we questioned the Treaty’s negotiators on multiple occasions, in open and closed sessions.

Overwhelmingly, these witnesses supported timely ratification of the New START Treaty. Some of the strongest endorsements came from America’s military leaders. Admiral Mullen testified that the Treaty has “the full support of your uniformed military.” Secretary Gates confirmed in an article he published in May that “[t]he New START Treaty has the unanimous support of America’s military leadership.” And General Chilton, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, testified that “our nation will be safer and more secure with this Treaty than without it.”
Come mid-September, Senators had better be ready to act, and to do so rapidly.  Our national security depends on it.

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