News over the weekend that the leadership of the GOP in the Senate, Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will both oppose the treaty was only notable if you weren’t paying attention. No one ever counted on the support of Kyl and McConnell and it merely confirms that the White House and Senate Democrats made the right decision to push ahead and hold a vote now, since the promise from Senator Kyl for a vote in January or February was clearly a false one. Meanwhile, START still has enough support for ratification.
The primary complaint from most persuadable Republican Senators now seems to have little to do with the treaty and everything to do with process. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) echoed those comments when he said that the lame duck had been “poisoned” because he was forced to vote on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the DREAM Act. This may be a new low for process petulance.
Complaining that you can’t vote for nuclear arms treaty that the US military wanted ratified yesterday, because you found it distasteful that you had to vote on unrelated legislation you didn’t like is child like petulance. Seriously, suck it up — and make a judgment on the treaty based on the treaty not on superfluous other issues. As Major Garrett, former Fox correspondent, said on MSNBC this morning “When you can’t argue substance, you argue procedure.”
But that being said, there is also a reason to believe that the process whining is just disguising the real Republican fear that ratification of New START would be another win for the White House. That reason is because in fact nothing about the ratification process has been unusual.
First, more days of floor time will be devoted to New START than the original START treaty. When the Senate finally votes on New START it will have devoted seven or more days — exactly the number of days Senate Republicans demanded and two more days than START I. That treaty was not just more complex because there were more nuclear weapons and it was the first of its kind, but because it was between multiple countries (US, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan) and was ratified just after the break up of the Soviet Union. In fact, the original negotiating partner, the USSR, no longer existed when the Senate voted on ratification. As Senator John Kerry (D-MA) noted:
We have now spent 5 days having a very good debate on New START and proposed amendments. That is as much time as the Senate spent on START I, and more than it spent on START II and the Moscow Treaty combined, but we are looking forward to continuing the debate this week.
Second, switching from executive session to legislative session is expressly permitted under Senate rules and is commonly done when dealing with treaties. Republicans complain that this has allowed Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to get around their delay tactics. For instance, when a cloture motion is filed it takes 30 hour to “ripen” in a sense nothing can then happen on legislative issues. But by switching to executive session, Reid has prevented Republicans from keeping the Senate idle and has allowed for ample floor time for the START treaty. Reid has not done anything out of bounds and has stayed within the rules of the Senate. Yet Republicans who have stretched the limits of Senate rules and who have used kinks in senate process to obstruct and delay all kinds of legislation, seem to insist that a different more strict set of unwritten rules apply to Democrats and this treaty.
Third, complaints about the treaty being rushed are total nonsense. The treaty has been in front of the Senate for eight months. Moreover, leading Senators on arms control, including Senator Kyl, were involved in the negotiations and even traveled to Geneva to confer with the negotiating team. The Senate committees held more than 20 hearings, featuring a disproportionate number of Republican witnesses. More than 1,000 questions were asked of the administration, all of which have been answered. The vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was even delayed in the summer by Senator Kerry, over the objections of Senator Richard Lugar, until after the August recess in order to appease Republican demands. When the treaty was voted out of committee, Democrats did not bring the treaty to the floor, because Republicans warned that a treaty could not be voted on before an election – no matter this was the case with the original START treaty.
Finally, Republicans said that the lame duck time was an appropriate time to get the treaty done. This summer Kyl spoke to Reuters who paraphrased:
It could be difficult to satisfy his [Kyl's] demands before November and thus the vote on New START might need to take place during the lame duck session if the Senate wants to vote on the treaty this year.
Additionally, a number of significant legislative items have been accomplished in past lame duck sessions, such as the impeachment of President Clinton.