Tales from the Trail

Senate Republicans keeping powder dry on START treaty

April 21, 2010

There appears to be no rush among Senate Republicans to finish what President Barack Obama STARTed when he signed the new¬†arms reduction treaty recently with Russia’s Dmitry Medvedev.

NUCLEAR-SUMMIT/At a closed-door meeting Wednesday on Capitol Hill, Senate Republicans listened to arms experts and leaders in their caucus discuss the deal, a follow-on to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

But the general feeling in the room was that it was way too early to decide whether the new START merited a thumbs-up or thumbs-down from the Senate, some participants said.

“I think everybody wants to see the full language before making a decision,” said Senator George LeMieux of Florida after the meeting.

“There are all the appendices (to the treaty) that we have not seen,” he said. Those are expected to be sent to the Senate by the Obama administration next month, along with the treaty itself.

Senator Jon Kyl, the Republican party’s whip in the Senate, told Reuters it would “undoubtedly” be months before he announces his decision on whether to back the new START.

“There is a long way to go before anybody can really make an informed judgment about the treaty,” he said.

The new START treaty, which cuts the arsenals of deployed nuclear warheads in both countries by about 30 percent, must be approved by the Senate as well as the Russian parliament before it can go into force.

Obama’s Democrats have the majority in the Senate but will need some Republicans to approve the treaty, for which a two-thirds vote is required. The administration, and Senate Democrats, would like to get the pact approved by the end of this year.

But the chamber has a large workload, including tougher regulation of the financial industry and confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee.

Only one Republican senator, Richard Lugar, has said that he expects to support the new START. Lugar is the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Kyl and another high-profile Republican senator, John McCain, have warned that it will be difficult for the Senate to approve the arms reduction pact without a “fully funded” program to modernize the remaining U.S. nuclear weapons.

Photo credit: Reuters/Jason Reed (Obama and Medvedev after signing new START)

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