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Posted at 5:00 PM ET, 12/ 3/2010

Graham on Democrats: Move fast on taxes if you want vote on START

By Mary Beth Sheridan

A key Republican warned Friday that the Senate had to act soon on tax and budget measures if there is to be time to vote this year on a U.S.-Russian nuclear deal that President Obama considers a priority.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) said that he was "pleased with the way things are moving" on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), but that Republicans wanted a thorough debate on the pact before voting on it.

Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz), who has been the Republicans' main negotiator on the treaty, said in a radio interview Thursday night that START had to be brought up next week in order to guarantee enough time for debate.

"And if they [Democrats] try to bring it up with only three or four days of debate, then I think Republicans, even those who are predisposed to support the treaty, would vote against it simply on the procedural ground that there isn't enough time to consider everything," Kyl told conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt. He said Republicans might then agree to have the treaty considered next year, perhaps in March.

Twenty-two Republican senators wrote to Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) on Friday saying they didn't want the treaty handled "in a hurried fashion" during the lame-duck session.

Graham said Kyl had proposed setting aside Dec. 8-17 to deal with the treaty. But there is one catch: Republicans want deals in place first on extending the Bush-era tax cuts, and funding the government.

Obama administration officials have said only a few days' floor time would be necessary to ratify the treaty. The Senate already has held 20 hearings on the pact, and the administration has responded to over 900 questions from senators about its content.

"There's growing belief among Republicans that to do the treaty sooner rather than later would be beneficial, if you had enough time to debate it" and consider amendments to the resolution of ratification, said Graham.

The Obama administration currently needs at least nine Republican votes to reach the 67-vote threshold needed to ratify a treaty. That number would grow to 14 in the next Congress.

Foreign diplomats and analysts have said ratification of the pact is critical to Obama's credibility internationally, and to the improved relationship between the one-time Cold War adversaries.

The pact reduces U.S. and Russian deployed, long-range nuclear warheads by up to 30 percent. More importantly, it would restore a system in which the nuclear giants can inspect and monitor each others' stockpiles.

Current and former military officials say those inspections are key to maintaining stability between the countries, which possess 95 percent of the world's nuclear weapons. The inspections, which had been occurring for 15 years, lapsed last year after the first START treaty expired.

By Mary Beth Sheridan  | December 3, 2010; 5:00 PM ET
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