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 ratify 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 the time needed to consider it. Instead, Republican leaders have decided they prefer to make President Obama look bad.
For 15 years, the United States and Russia have operated under the 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, won't 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. That's a hollow excuse.
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 a new Congress will be sworn in with fewer Democrats. Obama will then need 14 Republican votes, instead of the nine needed now, to get the two-thirds majority required for the treaty's ratification. There is little reason to believe Republicans will be more accommodating next year.
Despite all their postelection talk about bipartisanship, Republican leaders are sending strong signals that their main goal is to cripple this presidency and improve the chances of a GOP successor in 2012. They don't care that without START inspections, the Russians can do what they please with long-range missiles.
Joining Obama in a bipartisan show of support for the treaty Thursday were former Secretaries of State James A. Baker III and Henry A. Kissinger, former 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.