It was supposed to be done by now. Like cap and trade and Guantanamo before it, President Barack Obama’s New START with Russia was expected to be approved by the U.S. Senate of the 111th Congress. But just as the Obama administration has admitted defeat and is now scrubbing the White House webiste clean of cap and trade references, the administration is retreating on New START as well.
Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) had scheduled a Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote on the treaty before the August recess but had to pull the item for lack of votes. Former Assistant Secretary of State Stephen Rademaker explains why:
From the outset, proponents of New START have framed the issue as one on which senators must vote either yes or no. And those not in favor of “yes” are acting, as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry said of former governor Mitt Romney, on the basis of “narrow, uninformed political objections.”
This narrative grossly oversimplifies the way complex treaties typically are addressed in the Senate. In addition to voting yes or no, senators ordinarily are afforded the option of voting “yes, provided . . . ” — with that “provided” consisting of declarations and conditions in the Senate resolution of approval that are designed to remedy concerns about particular aspects of a treaty.
Overzealous supporters of treaties sometimes try to deny senators this third option, calculating that they have enough votes to ram a treaty through irrespective of some lawmakers’ reservations. This strategy can work brilliantly to streamline the approval process — but it can also fail spectacularly, as with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1999.
Working with the critics to address their concerns could pave the way for a strong bipartisan vote in favor of New START, as happened with the Chemical Weapons Convention. This would, however, require a level of patience and respect for dissenting views that has not been in evidence.
Instead, the process more closely resembles the one that surrounded the test-ban treaty. If current trends continue, the likely outcome will be a near party-line vote in the committee next month, probably foreclosing prospects for Senate approval this year.
As Rademacher notes: “All but two Republicans on the Foreign Relations Committee formally asked the administration to share with them the negotiating record of the treaty. They were told no, even though there is precedent for accommodating such requests.” The administration would be wise to follow this request.