Senate decides to take up START treaty
After months of hearings and intense negotiations, the Senate leadership announced Tuesday that it will proceed with a top priority of President Obama's -- ratification of the new U.S.-Russian nuclear-arms treaty -- despite objections from a key Republican.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters that the debate on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) would begin after the Senate vote on the tax bill, which was expected late Tuesday or early Wednesday.
Reid noted that Democrats had already postponed consideration of the treaty twice this year because of Republican concerns. "The time has come that we have to start voting and doing important things," he said. Obama has said the treaty is essential for national security and for maintaining good ties with Russia.
Senior Obama administration officials have said they have the 67 votes necessary to pass the treaty. But a key Republican challenged that assumption Tuesday.
Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz), the Senate's second-ranking Republican, said "I would discourage them" from bringing up the treaty. The Democrats, he told reporters, are "playing Russian roulette here."
Told that Reid believed he had the votes, Kyl responded: "I will resist the temptation to go over the record of things ... where the majority leader perhaps predicted something prematurely."
At least nine Republican votes would be needed to pass the treaty. Several Republicans have said in recent days that they are prepared to vote for the pact or are leaning toward doing so. But a critically influential Republican whom Senate Democrats had been wooing -- Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) -- was still uncommitted because of concerns about the treaty's possible impact on the U.S. missile defense program, said his spokeswoman, Brooke Buchanan.
The treaty would limit the two countries to 1,550 deployed long-range nuclear weapons each, a reduction of up to 30 percent from current levels, and cut the number of heavy bombers, submarines and missiles that can carry the warheads. It also would re-launch inspections by each side of the other's arsenal, which lapsed last year when the START I treaty expired. The U.S. military has argued it needs such inspections so it knows what Russia is doing with its most dangerous weapons.
Kyl has pressed the administration to guarantee billions of extra dollars to modernize the aging nuclear-weapons complex as a condition for his support of the treaty. He has argued that there is not enough time in the lame-duck session to give the treaty full consideration.
Mary Beth Sheridan
| December 14, 2010; 6:21 PM ET
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