Yesterday on the Senate floor, GOP Minority Whip and leading nuclear weapons advocate, Sen. Jon Kyl went to the GOP’s go to play when they are losing the argument. Kyl called for the Senate to slow down:
some have seemed intent on rushing the treaty that’s been sent to us. According to Congressional Quarterly, “A congressional aide who briefed reporters on the treaty said Thursday that Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., intended to complete hearings ‘in time for the Senate to take up the treaty before the August recess, if it so chooses.’” I’m not aware of any similar precedent for so rushing such a treaty of this complexity.
The Republican Policy Committee report on START also previewed Senator Kyl’s remarks in a report on START that asserted, “there is no reason for the Senate to rush its constitutional duty to evaluate the merits of the replacement treaty independently.”
The GOP attack makes little sense. Giving Congress four months to assess — what Henry Kissinger today called a “modest” treaty — is more than reasonable.
What this really demonstrates is the GOP has been forced to fall back and dust off their standard obstructionist ploy of complaining about process, resulting in calls for Congress to “start over” to “slow down” or to stop “rushing.” In February, I noted that the GOP had tipped their hand in wanting to recycle the same tactics of obstruction used in the health care debate against START. As Victor Zapanta of Think Progress documented, on everything from the recovery act, to health care, to Wall Street Reform, the GOP’s “solution to everything” has been to say slow down or start over:
Claims that the New START treaty is being rushed in the Senate are ridiculous. Senator Kerry has already held four hearings on the START treaty since it was signed on April 8th and will schedule more technical hearings in the coming months on various aspects of the treaty.
Pointing to past treaty ratification times, as the GOP does, is a false comparison. Kyl noted, for instance that the original START treaty took a really long time to ratify — 430 days to be exact. But something really significant happened during that time. The Soviet Union collapsed! The treaty was signed in July of 1991 and 5 months later the Soviet Union collapsed, creating significant complications in the ratification of the treaty. Additionally, the original START treaty took a long time because it was the first time such an extensive verification system was put into place. In other words, the treaty currently before the Senate is not an entirely new treaty, as it extends the previous START treaty that was negotiated under Ronald Reagan.
Furthermore, by citing the Moscow Treaty, which was signed in 2002 and took nine months to ratify, Kyl is indicting the incompetence of the then-GOP controlled Senate. The Moscow Treaty was only three pages long and contained no new verification procedures. There was no reason a three page treaty required nine months before a vote could be held on ratification. It certainly didn’t take that long because Senators were nitpicking over the details of a three page treaty.
Finally, this treaty ratification process should in fact move as quickly as possible. The past START treaty expired December last year, which means that all the verification measures that give us knowledge and insight into the Russian arsenal are in place only on a voluntary basis and some new measures are not in place. Ratifying New START therefore will give us greater insight into Russian nuclear forces and enhance nuclear stability. For the GOP Senators that have expressed concern over Russia’s nuclear arsenal, as Senator Kyl did, stalling and obstructing makes no sense.
The fact is that Senate deliberations on this new START treaty simply do not need to take as long as past treaties. No matter what happens, the most important and detailed hearings will be held this summer in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Therefore waiting or stalling will just place these issues on the backburner. No one is disputing that all necessary hearings should be held, but at the conclusion of these hearings Senators should have the chance to vote when these issues are still fresh on their minds. Taking longer by no means promises greater scrutiny of the treaty and does not guarantee greater attention.
The fact is that four months is plenty of time for the Senate to read, review, and assess this treaty. Saying otherwise is just a call either for Senate laziness or political stalling.