START Vote Delayed By McConnell’s Obstructionism And Kyl’s Nuclear Pork

mitch_mcconnell_leaderRemember last year when Republicans were aghast at all the sidedeals on health care? Remember when Republicans railed against pork barrel spending and argued for a laser like focus on deficits? Well hypocrisy knows no bounds. The sunbelt shakedown is now in full effect.

Senator Kerry just announced today that he would delay the Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote on the New START Treaty. The delay is not because the treaty wouldn’t pass out of committee, it is because the White House and Kerry are close to getting more Republicans – Senators Corker and Isakson are basically supportive of the treaty, but were allegedly upset about having a vote as they claimed to have a few outstanding questions that they wanted answered from the Administration before voting. The timeline for the committee was always tight, so a delay is not a real surprise.

But the delay in the vote has really nothing to do with process or rushing. Mitch McConnell yesterday made it abundantly clear what the hold up is about – the GOP (and more specifically Senator Jon Kyl) hasn’t been bought off yet. Corker himself noted last week, he supports the treaty but is following Kyl’s lead and holding out for more pork. McConnell told Reuters in a shocking degree of candor:

The only way this treaty gets in trouble is if it’s rushed… 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.

And by doing “it right,” McConnell explicitly says buy off Kyl with nuclear pork:

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… 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.

What does McConnell’s statement tell us:

First, there are no more substantive objections to the treaty. Mitt Romney and Heritage failed to convince GOP Senators that the treaty could be opposed on substantive grounds. Save for Senators DeMint and Inhofe, almost no GOP Senators are opposing the treaty on the merits. McConnell just threatened to cause the treaty “trouble” for no substantive reason. This is no longer a debate about the treaty.

Second, the GOP cares more about the politics of process than about US national security. When Anthony Wiener went ballistic on the floor of the House because House Republicans refused to vote for health care funding for 9-11 workers, it exposed the do nothing obstructionist bent of the GOP even when it comes to 9-11. Similarly, the one thing you would hope the GOP wouldn’t mess with is nuclear stability. Yet without the New START treaty in place the US military is rapidly losing its knowledge of and intelligence about the Russian nuclear arsenal because since the original START treaty expired last December the US no longer has boots on the ground monitoring what Russia is doing with its nuclear weapons. When weapons are on hair trigger alert and in 30 minutes entire cities could be destroyed the last thing you want is to have decreased knowledge and confidence. This is why our military is adamant about the treaty.

With all the complaints about “rushing” the Foreign Relations committee has done little else but talk about START in the last few months, as it has held nearly 20 hearings. The treaty has been so thoroughly covered that nothing new is being said about the treaty. Yet to gum up the process, it seems GOP Senators belatedly submitted questions to the Administration that they could not be expected to deliver in time. These delaying tactics will likely only continue further in September.

Third, it is all about nuclear pork. McConnell’s statement clearly indicates that support for START is all about whether Kyl is satisfied with nuclear modernization funding. Yet even neocon hawk Bob Kagan said that tying START to nuclear modernization funding was ridiculous: “The issue has nothing to do with New START’s intrinsic strengths or weaknesses.” Furthermore, the Administration has already pushed through a massive 15% increase. Yet Kyl and his colleagues are demanding more. Corker’s chief interest, for instance, is the Uranium Processing Facility in Oak Ridge, TN, which Corker seemingly arbitrarily determined needs between $4-$5 billion, well above the projected $1.4-$3.5 billion that the facility’s own contractor projects. He concedes, however, that “certainly, there’s no official estimate” but nevertheless said “it’s very likely” he would support the treaty if he got the funding.

Fourth, it’s a massive slap in the face of Richard Lugar and shows the far-right direction the Senate GOP has taken. McConnell’s interview basically says if Kyl is given what he wants than everyone will fall into line. But there is no mention of Richard Lugar who is a strong supporter of the treaty. This demonstrates where the ideological direction the GOP is headed. McConnell neglects (and seemingly rejects) his party’s foremost authority on nuclear weapons issues in the Senate, in favor of the far right approach of Kyl who advocates building and explosively testing new nuclear weapons. It also shows how impotent Lugar is in influencing his colleagues.