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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.

Republicans blame Reid for the lack of time available to consider START, contending that his insistence on prioritizing other legislation cost valuable time that could have been used to debate the treaty. With the Senate scheduled to adjourn for the year on Dec. 17, Republicans said adequate time to allow for START had about run out as of Wednesday.

“The longer they play these games, the less likely it is that we’ll do START,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who otherwise expects his substantive objections to the treaty to be resolved in negotiations with the White House. “I’m not going to vote for a treaty that doesn’t have enough time to be debated. You can get all the substance right, but process does matter.”

“I’m optimistic that we could [reach an agreement] overall and I’d like to support” START, added Senate Armed Services ranking member John McCain (R-Ariz.). “But, clearly, we’re running out of time.”

Since returning to work after breaking for the midterm campaigns, Reid and the Democrats have prioritized a handful of bills ahead of START — in addition to moving on an extension of current tax rates and funding to keep the government’s lights on. Republicans disapproved and have blamed their refusal to back START partly on this factor.

But Republican resistance to approving the treaty during the lame duck runs deeper than an abbreviated period and a crowded legislative calendar. Politically, the idea of punting START to next year, when a new Congress with a strengthened GOP minority of 47 Members will take office, has gained traction with Republican activists and conservative commentators beyond the Beltway.

The substance of the pact, particularly its effect on U.S. missile defense capabilities as well as how the treaty would affect related policy issues such as nuclear weapons modernization, also remains problematic for some Republicans — namely Kyl, whose sign-off many in the Conference are looking to as they weigh their own support.

Kyl has chosen to keep his final position on START under wraps, most likely until the treaty receives a hearing on the Senate floor. But the Arizona Republican intimated that the differences between himself and the White House are unlikely to be resolved this month but are likely to fare better when talks with the Obama administration resume next year.

“I think that the administration has, in its mind, done all it’s going to do. So I don’t think there’s any more talking with them about the resolution of ratification or the modernization issue,” Kyl said. “Whatever that is, it is, and I don’t think it’s going to get any better in the next few days.”

Jessica Brady contributed to this report.

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