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December 03, 2010

GOP Support for New START: "Counting the Chickens"
Posted by The Editors

When all 42 Republican Senators signed a letter to oppose any legislation other than tax cuts and stopgap spending measures, they purposefully excluded the New START treaty from this list, signaling a willingness to bring it to a vote.  “All we’re trying to do is prioritize,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. Corker noted the letter deliberately excluded reference to blocking action on ratification of the New START treaty, which he said means Republicans are open to Reid bringing the treaty to the floor.

A growing number of Republicans signaled this week that they’ll likely join Sen. Lugar (R-IN) in supporting New START, which has the full backing of our military leadership.  Republican Senators Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Olympia J. Snowe of Maine and Lindsey O. Graham of South Carolina have joined the senior senator from Arizona, John McCain as well as Bob Corker of Tennessee, George V. Voinovich of Ohio and Mark Kirk of Illinois—in voicing support of New START.  This is all a good sign, to say the least. 

According to the Washington Post, earlier today, Sen. Graham said that he was "pleased with the way things are moving" with the treaty but that Republicans wanted a thorough debate on the pact before voting on it.

“There's growing belief among Republicans that to do the treaty sooner rather than later would be beneficial, if you had enough time to debate it” and consider amendments to the resolution of ratification, said Graham.

Last week on Meet the Press, Sen. Kyl suggested it would take two weeks of floor time, though he couldn’t quite explain how he arrived at that timeframe, nor could he detail why this treaty would take longer than the last two strategic arms control agreements.  After all, two weeks of floor time for a treaty that has been so thoroughly vetted is absurd — in 1992, it took five days of floor time for the Senate to approve START I.  In 2003, the Senate approved the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) after just two days of floor debate.

But the Cable confirmed today that, “Senate sources say the deal is imminent and would result in bringing the treaty, known as New START, to the Senate floor on Dec. 13, which could provide up to two weeks of floor time to debate and then ratify the pact.” 

In what looked like a bold repudiation of the treaty, another GOP letter was circulated today – this one from senators who have already voiced decidedly negative opinions and displayed a general unwillingness to heed the advice of our most respected military and national security leaders.  In a completely unsurprising move, 22 Republican senators wrote to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to say that “It would be unwise and improper to do this in a hurried fashion over the course of only a few days.” Notice they did not say that they would oppose the treaty

The real significance here, though, is that 20 Republican Senators did not sign this letter, which only highlights the growing level of support among conservatives for ratifying the treaty this year.  Apparently, the Heritage Foundation—which launched a political lobbying campaign to try and defeat the treaty—  noticed this, too.

Heritage blasted Republicans, Jon Kyl in particular for “striking a deal to trade passage of the dangerous New START treaty for an extension of the current tax rates.”  Written by its President, Ed Fuelner, Heritage warns, “If Senate Republicans continue down this path, they will lose the goodwill of conservatives around the country and justify the skepticism of the American people.”

Heritage seems to conveniently gloss over the fact that the most respected members of the Republican establishment empathically support this treaty.  Our military leadership unanimously supports it; an overwhelming number national security leaders- from both sides of the aisle- have urged the Senate to ratify the treaty.  Conservative commentators have called out members of their own party. Editorial boards across the country have slammed the senators who are attempting to delay ratification.  And last, but certainly not least:  The American public wants this treaty.  CBS released a poll today that confirms, a whopping 82 percent of those polled support the New START.  Even among conservatives, support for the treaty is strong, with nearly three-fourths saying they supported the treaty.  

It looks like slowly but surely, this reality is sinking in.

As Hilary Clinton advised today, “I'm not counting the chickens until they vote.”  But like Sen. Lugar has observed, “I think when it finally comes down to it, we have sufficient number or senators who do have a sense of our national security. This is the time, this is the priority. Do it."


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I simply do not understand these Senator's opposition to the treaty. My best guess is that they have so defined their role as legislators as being in opposition to the Democrats that they find it hard to see anything put forward by them as in the nation's interest. However, when all authoritative sources support an action it seems like they would reconsider their reasons for opposition. Perhaps their commitment to American Exceptionalism has made them hostile to the rest of the world, or is it just Russia. Perhaps they're till set inside a Cold War orientation towards Russia on nuclear issues. But the treaties during the Cold War were generally considered mutually beneficial. Do they not trust the military leaders because they're "establishment elitist experts"? That still doesn't seem right. I can't believe they are that stubborn. To reiterate, I just do not understand these Senator's opposition to the treaty.

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