With Senate Republicans refusing to vote on anything until they get their way on the Bush tax cuts, time is running out for many other legislative initiatives Democrats hoped to address during the lame-duck session. If a compromise is reached on taxes, as is being discussed, ratifying the New START treaty should be the easiest for the Senate to check off its list.
“Should” is the operative word, of course, as Republicans have drawn out the process for months, and they’ve yet to properly explain their reluctance. In another effort to make the Senate realize the urgency, president Obama hosted an Oval Office chat with Colin Powell, whose authority on the subject of nuclear arms treaties is, perhaps, unrivaled.
Following their private meeting, Powell joined the president to offer his remarks. Obama introduced his predecessor’s first Secretary of State thusly:
I hate to date him, but from the Reagan administration on, he has helped to shepherd through a variety of these arms control treaties, and the reason is, is because he understands, as so many others understand, that a world without binding U.S.-Russia arms control treaties is a more dangerous world.
Powell stated that he was in agreement with the president that New START should be ratified “as soon as possible.” Powell explained that the new arms control agreement with Russia is a continuation of a process, begun under the Reagan administration, subsequently administered by presidents from both parties, that is responsible for an 80 percent reduction of nuclear stockpiles since the end of the Cold War.
From the White House transcript (video below):
… we hope that we can continue this process. New START is important because it continues this process. And it’s especially important because at the end of last year, we lost the verification system that we had under START I. And this is the first time in all these years where we don’t have these procedures in place. So we’re not sure exactly what’s going on within the Russian Federation; they’re not exactly sure what’s going on in the United States of America.
Powell’s appearance with Obama was followed up with a Washington Post op-ed, published the next day. Joining Powell in writing “The Republican Case for ratifying New START” was Henry A. Kissinger, George P. Schultz, James A. Baker III, and Lawrence S. Eagleburger. That makes one Secretary of State from each of the last five Republican administrations.
The former chief diplomats make a three point argument for why New START should be ratified by the Senate. All three are intuitive, national security rationales, once prized by the GOP.
The first two are connected: Once ratified, New START (1) reestablishes verification measures, which (2) helps the U.S. military design an appropriate missile defense.
The third reason pertains to modernization and maintenance of America’s nuclear arsenal:
The administration has put forth a 10-year plan to spend $84 billion on the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons complex. Much of the credit for getting the administration to add $14 billion to the originally proposed $70 billion for modernization goes to Sen. Jon Kyl, the Arizona Republican who has been vigilant in this effort…
For me, this was the best part of the op-ed. Not because of the money or modernization of nukes, but the fact that Sen. Kyl must have flinched when he read it. As I noted two weeks ago, Kyl’s ‘vigilance’ was part of a political ploy to delay ratification. Now it’s been turned around to help persuade the GOP’s chief stick in the mud to get with the program.
Too little, too late? Perhaps.
To be sure, Sec. Eagleberger’s contribution to the WaPo piece, his insistence that it “not make a recommendation about the exact timing of a Senate ratification vote,” lessened the impact of an otherwise weighty plea to Senate Republicans. Plus, there’s no guarantee Obama’s compromise on tax cuts will be accepted by either party, and even if the tax situation should happen to get squared away this week, New START will have to contend with other worthy Democratic priorities — like the repeal of DADT or the DREAM Act’s passage — as the clock runs out on the 111th Congress.
Lastly, consider this: all three of the initiatives in the previous sentence are national security related. All of them endorsed by military leaders, and none of them are supported by elected Republicans. As I suggested at the top, New START should be the easiest to get done. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that DADT or the DREAM Act are somehow inferior causes, but you tell me: which one would be the most likely to gain GOP support?
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