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Posted at 4:40 PM ET, 12/16/2010

GOP holds off on amendments as Senate debates START treaty

By Mary Beth Sheridan

The Senate launched into debate on the new U.S.-Russia arms treaty on Thursday, with Republicans warning they needed extensive time to consider the pact in the waning days of the lame-duck Congress.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), head of the Foreign Relations Committee, repeatedly asked Republicans for their proposed amendments to the treaty and the resolution of ratification, so they could be debated.

"We've been here for a day. We still haven't had an amendment," Kerry said in frustration Thursday afternoon on the Senate floor, after six hours of speeches.

Minutes earlier, Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) told reporters that Republicans had filed one amendment, which aimed to "wipe out the treaty."

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz), said his staff had compiled a list of amendments that Republicans planned to offer. But he told Kerry that a full debate was needed before getting to them.

"Part of the business on the treaty is to expose its flaws and have a robust debate about those flaws, which can provide the foundation for the amendments we intend to offer," he said.

At the White House on Wednesday, senior military officials reiterated their calls for passing the treaty.

"We need START, and we need it badly," said Marine Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) is being considered as the Senate is also rushing to finish a spending bill that will keep the government from shutting down on Saturday.

Kerry told reporters he will not allow the treaty or its preamble to be amended because "we could wind up with months and months of negotiation" with Russia, whose parliament would also have to vote on the amendments.

It requires 51 votes to defeat an amendment, which treaty supporters appear likely to get easily. Kerry said he would accept amendments to the non-binding resolution of ratification.

The Senate voted Wednesday to open debate on the treaty, and opponents enumerated their objections, including fears that the pact could limit U.S. missile defense, a concern that the Obama administration rejects. Kyl pointed to the treaty's limit of 700 deployed nuclear-carrying missiles, heavy bombers and submarines for each side, noting that the United States would have to reduce arms to get to that limit but Russia would not.

"The Russians appear to have gotten very much what they bargained for, and what did we get?" Kyl asked.

"We get nuclear stability," Kerry said in response, noting U.S. military leaders' support for the pact. New START would also reduce long-range, deployed nuclear warheads on both sides to 1,550. And -- important to the military -- it would set an agreement under which each side gets to inspect the other's stockpile to ensure there are no surprises.

By Mary Beth Sheridan  | December 16, 2010; 4:40 PM ET
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Yes, we need verification, and, yes, we need modernization. No, we do not need New Start to be ratified. Let us start over.

Posted by: fiveman3 | December 16, 2010 7:32 PM | Report abuse

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