The U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations has recently published a summary of the continuing resolution (CR) that would allow continued government operations through March 4, 2011. The vote on the document is expected on December 21, as the current CR is set to expire the very same day. Senators should not fall for the promise of modernization money proposed in the CR in exchange for their vote on New START, a strategic offensive arms reductions treaty with the Russian Federation.

The CR adjusts the current rate of operations for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) weapons program to $7 billion, a $624 million increase over the fiscal year 2010 appropriation, in conjunction with New START. This is a quid pro quo to make sure that Republicans in the Senate are pressured, by millions in nuclear modernization monies, to vote for the ratification of New START.

The treaty must stand on its own merits and be judged according to whether it is beneficial to U.S. security or not. It is a good thing that the Administration has acknowledged this. James Miller, the principal deputy under secretary of defense for policy, recently stated: “The Administration’s strong view is that the treaty makes sense on its own merits, and the Administration’s strong view is that additional funding for NNSA makes sense on its own merits. So no, we don’t support that linkage.”

The U.S. nuclear infrastructure needs a comprehensive overhaul and is in need of urgent attention. The White House has proposed $85 billion in spending over the next decade, but this money is modest compared to the need. Furthermore, most of the money is proposed to be spent well beyond the President’s term. Importantly, the nuclear modernization plan ignores the fact that it is Congress that has the final say in formulating the budget, not the White House.

Trading U.S. nuclear modernization funding for a New START vote is a bad idea at any time and would set a dangerous precedent. The treaty is seriously flawed and needs to be fixed before the final vote on the Senate floor.

In addition, the vote should not be scheduled during a short lame duck session. In a recent Heritage Foundation report, Matt Spalding, Ph.D., notes that never in the history of the United States has a lame duck Senate given its advice and consent and voted on a major treaty. The ratification of New START by a lame duck Senate would not only ignore the message sent by voters in November but also break a significant precedent, consistent with the principle of consent, maintained by Presidents and Congresses since the passage of the Twentieth Amendment in 1933.

Co-authored by Michaela Bendikova.