The Washington Post reports this morning that the fate of a lame duck vote on New START rests on just one man: Senator Jon Kyl (RAZ). According to the Posts sources, other Republicans in Congress have kind of delegated New START to Kyl, meaning that if the Obama Administration wins his vote, the nine total Republican votes needed to reach 67 votes would be easy to find. That is why the White House dispatched General Kevin Chilton to Arizona last Friday, and it is why Defense Secretary Robert Gates is scheduled to meet with Kyl later this week.
In what the Post describes as a high-octane lobbying campaign, Gates has already offered Kyl an extra $4 billion in spending on nuclear programs in exchange for his vote. This is on top of the existing $10 billion Administration pledge. This deal is bad policy and deplorable politics.
First of all, the White House has no standing to make this offer. Most of the proposed spending is in the out years beyond President Obamas term, and the White House does not pass budgets; Congress does. How can any conservative take a White House promise for future funding on faith before the 2012 budget has been written? Instead, the White House has demanded a vote in the lame duckbefore even the 2011 budget is approved. Second, the Obama Administration is not drawing this $4 billion from their own domestic priorities; they are shifting it from other defense priorities. The bottom line is that this deal, even if followed through, would just weaken the military elsewhere.
And all this money isnt going to real nuclear modernization. Remember, President Obamas goal is to reduce the number of our nuclear weapons to zero, not build new ones. That is why the billions in modernization are actually being dumped into federal labs and universities without spelling out a clear military mission for their activities. And there are other problems with the treaty as well. The verification measures are completely inadequate, and the treaty places restrictions on U.S. missile defense options in at least five areas.
Treaties such as New START require more scrutiny than others. The Senate needs access to the negotiating record that includes all draft versions of New START, memoranda, notes, and communications between U.S. and Russian negotiators. This record is critical to clear up questions on key provisions in the treaty and, specifically, how the Russians interpret them. The Senate is constitutionally mandated to give due diligence in its consideration of New START. This responsibility is not consistent with the rushed process the White House is seeking.
But most importantly, if this $4 billion is needed to maintain our nuclear arsenal, then it is needed to maintain our nuclear arsenal. Conditioning funding for an effective nuclear deterrent on New START is playing politics with our national security. Earlier this month the American people sent an unequivocal message to Washington that business as usual must stop. Ratifying New START in a lame duck session on the back of a $4 billion payout would be a clear rejection of that message.