There's more than garden variety opportunism, however, in Jon Kyl's attempt to spike a vote on the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty in the lame duck session. The administration has negotiated for months with Kyl, the Republican point man on this issue, and accommodated virtually all of his mostly bogus and mercenary demands for more spending on nuclear modernization and expanded commitment to missile defense. In a reprise of Republican tactics in the healthcare battle, Kyl solemnly declared that a vote before year's end is not feasible, "given the combination of other work Congress must do and the complex and unresolved issues related to START and modernization." To delay the vote until next year, when the Democratic majority shrinks from 59 to 53 and a whole new round of hearings would be required, is to kill the treaty.
No one needs me to make the case for a treaty supported by seven former commanders of U.S. Strategic Command, six former secretaries of state, five former defense secretaries, and a partridge in a pear tree. In brief, New START gets U.S. weapons inspectors back into Russia, it continues the nuclear force reduction in an equitable manner, it gives both countries nonproliferation credibility, it has enabled and will continue to enable U.S.-Russian cooperation on vital issues such as restraining Iranian weapons development, and it unquestionably leaves the U.S. free to pursue that probably worthless Republican shibboleth, missile defense. End of story. Only cranks, crackpots and
Initial reports suggested that Kyle's opposition would effectively kill the treaty. But I am heartened. Some antibodies remain in the system. A full-court press is on. Gates, Clinton, Kerry, Lugar. In particular, Lugar's pressure on fellow Republicans -- and direct bid to put some spine in Obama and other Democrats -- seems vital:
In a stunning rebuke to members of his own caucus, Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN) said on Wednesday that the GOP is intentionally trying to put off a vote on the New START treaty with Russia, and avoiding a serious discussion about the treaty within the caucus.
"At the moment, the Republican caucus is tied up in a situation where people don't want to make choices," Lugar told reporters in the hallway of the Capitol building Wednesday. "No one wants to be counted. No one wants to talk about it."....
"Every senator has an obligation in the national security interest to take a stand, to do his or her duty. Maybe people would prefer not to do his or her duty right now," he said. "Sometimes when you prefer not to vote, you attempt to find reasons not to vote."
Lugar argued that the intransigence within the Republican caucus is a result of the leadership's unwillingness to put current GOP senators in the crosshairs of the debate before the political terrain shifts in the Republicans' favor when the new Congress is sworn in.
"If you're a Republican, you anticipate that the lay of the land is going to be much more favorable in January and therefore would say, ‘If we do not have to make tough choices now, why make tough choices?'" Lugar explained.
Lugar wants the Democratic Senate leadership to cut off negotiations immediately and force a vote on New START now, to compel senators to get off the fence and to end the endless stalling coming from his own side of the aisle.
"I'm advising that the treaty should come on the floor so people will have to vote aye or nay [even if there's no deal]," he said. "I think when it finally comes down to it, we have sufficient number or senators who do have a sense of our national security. This is the time, this is the priority. Do it."....
Delaying until next year is a worst case scenario that could delay the treaty's ratification for months or even years as new senators request additional time to study the issue, and the committee process begins all over again, he said. ..
Lugar also warned that the failure to ratify the treaty could have drastic consequences for other facets of U.S.-Russia nuclear cooperation -- especially the Nunn-Lugar effort to secure loose nuclear materials throughout the former Soviet Union.
If START fails, the cooperation between the United States and Russia on securing loose nukes could be imperiled, representing an even bigger risk for national security, Lugar said.
"There are still thousands of missiles out there. You better get that through your heads," he said, directing his comments to members of his own party.
Get that through your heads. Now there's heroism. And now Harry Reid has taken up the baton. In response to Kyl's suggestion that a vote in the current session is not doable, Reid retorted:
“It is vitally important to America’s national security for the Senate to ratify the new START treaty before Congress adjourns this year. We need our inspectors back on the ground and the critical information they can provide about Russia’s nuclear capabilities. Ratification of this treaty would accomplish both.
“This treaty has strong bipartisan consensus in the Senate. It has been endorsed by the U.S. military, our diplomatic leadership, and scores of former Republican and Democratic national security officials. So I am puzzled by Senator Kyl’s announcement that he is not prepared to move forward on the new START treaty.
“The Administration has made it clear it is prepared to work with all Senators to resolve any outstanding concerns, and I appreciate in particular their efforts to reach out to Senator Kyl. I assure Senator Kyl and others concerned about the fate of this treaty that the Senate will be in session after Thanksgiving and will have time to consider and ratify it.
As Lugar's comments make clear, this is the one battle in the lame duck session that Obama can't afford to lose. The Bush tax cuts, as long as they're not all made permanent, pale by comparison. Obama's credibility on the world stage is on the line.