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November 15, 2010

More love, money pour in for New START
Posted by Kelsey Hartigan

Over the weekend, President Obama said that prompt Senate ratification of New START is a "top priority" of his administration.  Last Friday, Admiral Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a group at Stanford University, "I believe, and the rest of the military leadership in this country believes, that this treaty is essential to our future security," and that "I hope the Senate will ratify it quickly."

Today, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Senators to ratify New START “before this session of Congress ends,” saying, “Our national security depends on it.”

The momentum has clearly carried over to the Hill.  While the treaty is unlikely to come to the floor before Thanksgiving, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) said last week during a conference call that Sen. Reid (D-NV), the Senate Majority Leader, is committed to finding the floor time.  “I’ve had a conversation with Sen. Reid and I believe he wants to get this done,” Sen. Kerry stated.  Jim Manley, a spokesman for Reid further confirmed, “Now that the election is over, hopefully the White House and Senate Republicans can reach an agreement that will allow us to ratify the treaty by the end of the year,” Manley said.

Republicans have repeatedly shifted the goal posts on New START, moving from one “concern” to another as questions were systematically resolved throughout the hearing process, which consisted of 18 hearings, 4 classified briefings and answers to over 900 Questions for the Record.  But depending on who you talk to, most of what the GOP is now saying can be boiled down into two canned responses:  Concerns about funding for the nuclear complex and missile defense.  Exhibit A:  Lindsey Graham

Since the beginning of the New START debate, Sen. Kyl has led the crusade for more “nuclear pork.”  In the 1251 report that is required by Congress, the administration pledged to spend an unprecedented $80 billion over the next ten years to ensure our nuclear arsenal is safe, secure and effective.  On top of that, the administration also committed an additional $100 billion over the next decade to modernize our strategic delivery vehicles. Despite the fact that this is an obscene amount of money, Kyl and Co. said it wasn’t enough. 

On Friday, the administration offered to put forward another $4.1 billion for modernization.  Yes, billion with a “b.”

As the AP reported, “The offer was for a boost of $4.1 billion in funding between 2012-2016 for the nuclear weapons complex that will go to maintaining and modernizing the arsenal and the laboratories that oversee that effort. Of that, $1 billion would cover a deficit in the pension fund for the agency in charge of the stockpile and laboratories.  The additional money comes on top of an additional $10 billion the administration had already agreed to over 10 years.”

NNSA and the national labs were already sitting pretty before the administration sweetened the deal.  As Jeffery Lewis explains, “[The labs] have gone from open warfare with their appropriators in Congress during the Bush Administration to a Presidential commitment to spend unprecedented sums on modernizing the nuclear-weapons complex. The Administration pushed Congress to pass a Continuing Resolution for the budget — which typically funds government entities at the previous year’s level — containing increases in NNSA’s budget. There is a reason that Linton Brooks told the Exchange Monitor that “I would’ve killed for this kind of budget.”

Kyl has now entered dangerous territory.  If he continues to delay, not only will he manage to alienate himself from the entire military leadership, but he’ll run the risk of spoiling the whole deal.  In recent days, the administration has made it clear that if the Senate does not forward with New START during the lame duck, it could “shatter the fragile consensus on modernizing the nuclear complex.”  As one senior official explained, “New Start puts nuclear modernization in the right context for those who worry how it could send the wrong signal to the world and undermine our non-proliferation efforts.”  Translation:  Screw up New START and you can kiss your nuclear pork goodbye. 

In a world where the dual threats of nuclear terrorism and nuclear proliferation pose the biggest threat to our security, the administration simply cannot afford to spend billions on modernizing our arsenal if our commitment to reducing it falls by the wayside.  The message that would send our international partners and allies would be disastrous.  There is a careful balance that must be maintained and the administration has made it clear that nuclear modernization programs go hand in hand with arsenal reductions.

As for missile defense, this talking point has more to do with a long-standing GOP obsession than anything else.  The head of the Missile Defense Agency, the commander of U.S. strategic command, secretary of defense, chairman of the Joint Chiefs and countless others have all said that New START does not limit our ability to develop and deploy the most effective missile defense system possible.  The administration has requested nearly $10 billion in funding for our missile defenses in fiscal 2011.  Unless Republicans really just want to put “1000 lasers in the sky,” the case is closed. 

I like the way things are trending for New START.  Caucus meetings will take place tomorrow—at which point the GOP will likely decide how it will proceed.  Substantive debate over the treaty concluded quite some time ago; it has now dwindled down to two tired talking points, neither of which are based in reality.   The administration is clearly committed to funding both the nuclear complex and our missile defenses.  The only thing left for the GOP to decide is whether it is with our uniformed military or against it.  Sen. Lugar (R-IN) recently wrote that “the Republicans can’t just be the Party of 'No.'”  New START will be the first test of whether the GOP can be trusted to lead.  As Robert Kagan recently explained to his fellow conservatives, ratifying New START is a “good first step toward governing.” 


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