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Democrats May See the End for START

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl wants START with Russia to be considered by the 112th Congress, rather than this one, when there’s time for a fuller debate.

Senate Republicans remain disinclined to support ratification of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia during the lame-duck session, and now Democrats are beginning to have doubts, too.

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.), the Republican point man on START, signaled that his crucial backing will not be forthcoming in what’s left of the lame duck, given the time left to complete work on a tax bill and government funding.

“I just don’t think there’s time,” Kyl said Wednesday afternoon following lunch with the Republican Steering Committee. “I think pretty soon we’re going to have to recognize the reality of the situation and agree for a time for the treaty to be taken up next year.”

Senate Democrats have repeatedly dismissed Republican arguments and have accused the GOP of playing politics with national security. Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) continues to insist that enough time remains in the lame duck to debate and clear START, and President George H.W. Bush urged Senate action on the treaty Wednesday.

But Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry acknowledged that time is growing short in the post-election session to consider the treaty. The Massachusetts Democrat spent several minutes around noon huddling with Kyl and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on the Senate floor discussing the Senate schedule as it relates to START, and then he retreated with Kyl to the Minority Whip’s office to discuss the matter further.

Though he struck a more hopeful tone than Kyl, Kerry conceded that the Senate’s legislative schedule is quickly filling up as time is set aside for debate on a deal to extend the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts.

“It’s a question of the overall Senate schedule,” Kerry said. “We’re trying to make sure there’s adequate time for each of the things that need to be done, and Senators don’t want to feel like they’re being cheated of that adequacy of time. They don’t want to be jammed, and we understand that.”

President Barack Obama signed START with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev earlier this year and has made ratification of the treaty by year’s end his No. 1 foreign policy priority. Most, if not all, of the Senate’s 58 Democrats and Independents are prepared to back START.

But ratification requires 67 votes, and even the majority of Republicans who have signaled their intent to support the treaty are making clear they will withhold their backing out of deference to skeptical colleagues if Democrats attempt to rush START through the Senate.

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