In addition to the energy/oil spill bill getting deferred to September at the earliest, the Senate also delayed its work on the New START Treaty, which I’ve been calling the Prague Treaty because that’s where it was signed. The Prague Treaty would reduce US and Russian nuclear stockpiles significantly, by about 30%, and put a strict verification regime into place. But John Kerry, the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said his committee needs more time to create a “bipartisan consensus” on the ratification. Treaties of this type need a 2/3 vote to pass through the Senate.
What’s been fascinating is seeing how the Republicans have blown right by their most knowledgeable member on the issue, and the ranking member of the relevant committee, Richard Lugar, in trying to leverage the treaty by extracting pork:
The delay is not because the treaty wouldn’t pass out of committee, it is because the White House and Kerry are close to getting more Republicans – Senators Corker and Isakson are basically supportive of the treaty, but were allegedly upset about having a vote as they claimed to have a few outstanding questions that they wanted answered from the Administration before voting. The timeline for the committee was always tight, so a delay is not a real surprise.
But the delay in the vote has really nothing to do with process or rushing. Mitch McConnell yesterday made it abundantly clear what the hold up is about – the GOP (and more specifically Senator Jon Kyl) hasn’t been bought off yet. Corker himself noted last week, he supports the treaty but is following Kyl’s lead and holding out for more pork… McConnell explicitly says buy off Kyl with nuclear pork:
“All they have to do is find enough money to satisfy Senator Kyl that they are prepared to do what they said they would do… If it’s important to you, you can find a way, in an over a trillion dollar discretionary budget to fund it. In my view they need to do that, because without that I think the chances of ratification are pretty slim.”
McConnell’s statement clearly indicates that support for START is all about whether Kyl is satisfied with nuclear modernization funding. Yet even neocon hawk Bob Kagan said that tying START to nuclear modernization funding was ridiculous: “The issue has nothing to do with New START’s intrinsic strengths or weaknesses.” Furthermore, the Administration has already pushed through a massive 15% increase. Yet Kyl and his colleagues are demanding more. Corker’s chief interest, for instance, is the Uranium Processing Facility in Oak Ridge, TN, which Corker seemingly arbitrarily determined needs between $4-$5 billion, well above the projected $1.4-$3.5 billion that the facility’s own contractor projects. He concedes, however, that “certainly, there’s no official estimate” but nevertheless said “it’s very likely” he would support the treaty if he got the funding.
For some reason, Democrats and their allies never bring up the fantastic amount of horse-trading and “backroom deals” where Republicans exact specific funding requests in exchange for allowing votes. The GOP got a ton of mileage out of the Cornhusker Kickback and other follies in health care reform, yet they call for their own bribes with regularity. “Nuclear modernization funding” is merely the continued production of nuclear warheads, despite the phase-out that this treaty begins. It’s just shoveling money to the military industrial complex.
Dick Lugar, who supports the treaty and sits as the ranking member on Foreign Relations, isn’t as important as buying off Jon Kyl, this suggests. Lugar has no influence whatsoever with his colleagues, clearly.
Surely the tea party movement will any day now release a denunciation of Kyl and Corker for their massive expansion of government and pork-barrel spending.