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Delay Likely Means Death For New START

In response to criticism for stalling the New START treaty, Senate Republicans have insisted that all they are talking about is a delaying a vote for a couple of months. After all, what’s the difference, Republicans insist, between a vote in December and a vote in February? The difference is that the idea that there will be a vote in January or February is a myth. Only the most naive in the ways of Washington would believe differently. Let’s be clear: delaying a vote likely means the death of the treaty.

First of all, the treaty ratification process will have to start all over. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee could technically vote the treaty out of committee again immediately, but with a change in members on both sides of the aisle, new hearings will be insisted upon by the new minority members. New Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), among others, have in fact already demanded this. Therefore, these new round of hearings will take time. So we are likely looking at a delay in the committee vote until about April.

If the treaty is voted out of committee, it will then need Senate floor time and will need the votes of 15 Republicans instead of 9. And to make the ratification math even harder, some of these new Republicans are replacing more moderate Republicans, such as Bob Bennett (R-UT) and George Voinovich (R-OH).

The treaty will therefore be firmly in the hands of the Senate Republican leadership. We don’t know if Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) is just trying to kill the treaty quietly or if he wants to push it into next year to gain even more leverage in order extort more nuclear pork funding.

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Kyl initially tied his potential support for START to funding increases for the nuclear weapons complex — an issue that is not affected or related to the treaty. The Administration capitulated and capitulated again to Kyl’s demands and is now planning to allocate $85 billion over ten years, about a 20 percent increase more than the Bush administration. Yet Kyl has refused to take yes for an answer and has continuously moved the goal posts. Now no one actually knows what Kyl wants anymore.

Furthermore, what we witnessed over the past year from Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) was a deliberate strategy to delay and obstruct the treaty. When the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was set to vote in August, Republicans insisted on delay, accusing the committee of “rushing.” Following the vote in bipartisan committee vote in September, Republicans insisted a floor vote couldn’t happen before the election because it would “reek of politics” –- despite the fact the original START treaty was voted on just before an election. Kyl himself even told Reuters in August that the lame duck period was the appropriate period. Reuters paraphrased:

the Senate might need a “lame duck” session if it wants to vote on the new START this year, he [Kyl] said.

Now Republicans say that a lame duck session is not an appropriate place to vote on a treaty (I guess voting to impeach a President in a lame duck session, despite having lost seats in the election is acceptable, however).

What we do know, however, is that there is no reason to believe that Kyl will be in any rush to ratify the treaty in the new year. In fact, one can already predict the new excuses for delay. First, it will be needing to wait for the new President’s budget, then it will be because we need to guarantee that the congress approves the new spending in the FY12 budget, then some low level Russian official will say something about not liking missile defense and Kyl will say “see we can’t do the treaty” or “we need more time.”

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On top of all this, the 2012 election starts in full swing next year. With Republican candidates tripping over themselves to move to the right (Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin have already come out in opposition to the treaty), the chances that the Republican leadership in the Senate would provide President Obama a “victory,” however slight a victory, becomes increasingly less likely.

So while it might not be now or never for the START treaty, it will certainly be perceived that way in Moscow and other capitals around the world. And the implications of its failure, or perceived failure will be very serious.

Update:

Following today’s meeting with President Obama, it now looks like the Republican Senate leadership is trying to use the treaty as leverage to extend tax cuts for the richest Americans. The Washington Post reports:

A possible end game that appeared to taking shape, numerous Senate sources said, could give Republicans the across-the-board tax-cut extensions that they are seeking, albeit in temporary form, in exchange for a Senate vote on the arms control treaty, a top priority for Obama.”