Still giddy from gains in the midterm elections, Senate Republican leaders have decided they don’t mind being called obstructionists after all. They have offered only weak excuses for refusing to take required action on a new nuclear-arms treaty with Russia, claiming there is no time before the lame-duck session ends.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved ratification by a 14-4 vote in September, with three Republicans joining the majority. The importance of this issue to national security demands that the Senate make time to consider this matter. Instead, Republican leaders have decided it is more beneficial to them to make President Obama look bad.
For 15 years, the United States and Russia have operated under a Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that was crafted under Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. But it expired in December, and until it is replaced, U.S. verification of the size of Russia’s missile arsenal, and vice versa, cannot continue. The Senate has held 21 briefings and hearings on a new START negotiated between the two countries. But Senate Republicans claim they still don’t know enough to vote on the measure.
Sen. John Kyl (R, Ariz.), who is leading his party’s opposition on this issue, has been claiming concern that the remaining U.S. arsenal during downsizing under START might become obsolete. To allay that concern, Obama has added $14 billion to the already budgeted $70 billion for missile modernization over the next 10 years. But that hasn’t satisfied Kyl. Sen. Richard Lugar (R, Ind.), who supports START, explained why: “If you’re a Republican, you anticipate the lay of the land is going to be much more favorable in January.”
That’s when the new Congress will be sworn in with fewer Democrats. Obama will need 14 Republican votes, instead of the nine needed now, to get the two-thirds majority required for Senate passage. There is little reason to believe Republicans will be more willing to give him a victory then. Despite all their recent talk about bipartisanship, Republicans are sending strong signals that they want to cripple this presidency so as to improve the chances of a GOP successor in 2012. They don’t care that without inspections under START, the Russians can do what they please.
Joining Obama in a show of support for the treaty Thursday were former secretaries of state James A. Baker III and Henry A. Kissinger, defense secretary William S. Cohen, and national security adviser Brent Scowcroft. All served in Republican administrations. “As Ronald Reagan said, we have to trust, but we also have to verify. In order for us to verify, we’ve got to have a treaty,” said Obama. That’s easy enough to understand, unless you prefer to let partisan politics be your guide and ignore what is in the best interest of your country.