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Partisan Rancor Consumes START Debate

The three Republicans are Armed Services ranking member John McCain (Ariz.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), who are opposed to the bill but have indicated they might be close to resolving their differences with the Obama administration, and Sen. Scott Brown (Mass.), who is reserving judgment pending amendments.

Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) and Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), who have already announced their support for START, also said they would oppose the treaty absent insufficient debate time.

“I believe that Jon Kyl has the right to have — he’s a very substantive guy around here — he has a right to have his case made in an orderly way on the floor and not in the middle of the Christmas season,” Gregg said.

Foreign Relations ranking member Dick Lugar (Ind.) is the notable exception to the GOP opposition.

Senate Republicans led by Kyl have been pushing for several months for the START debate to be delayed until 2011, a desire that gained steam after the Nov. 2 elections, when the GOP picked up six seats and expanded its Conference from 41 to 47 Members in the 112th Congress. The Republicans’ main substantive concerns with the treaty include its potential effect on U.S. missile defense capabilities.

The GOP has also sought to secure money for the modernization of existing nuclear weapons stockpiles as a part of the START negotiations. Republicans also complain that the lame-duck session offers inadequate time to debate the treaty.

Democrats dismiss the Republicans’ concerns as a smoke screen for seeking to run out the clock on the 111th Congress, which expires Jan. 4, and kill START altogether. Ratification of the treaty is Obama’s No. 1 foreign policy priority.

During their news conference, Feinstein, Kerry and Levin charged that the Republicans have had more than a year to study the treaty. They contend that Democrats have bent over backward to satisfy the GOP opposition, accepting several requested changes to the treaty’s language and agreeing to delay the debate until late in the year to satisfy requests for more time to review it.

“We’re not going to be thwarted by the obstructionists,” Levin said.

Feinstein added, “We should unify this treaty without delay.”

Republicans responded by angrily charging Reid with “incompetence” in his management of the Senate, likening the process to the end-of-year debate and Christmas Eve passage of the health care reform bill last year. Many of the Republicans who joined Kyl at the news conference Wednesday said they are inclined to ultimately support ratification of START, but not during the lame duck.

The Republicans who went before the cameras to protest included Alexander and Sens. John Barrasso (Wyo.), Kit Bond (Mo.), Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Mike Johanns (Neb.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), George LeMieux (Fla.), James Risch (Idaho), Pat Roberts (Kan.) and John Thune (S.D.).

“I feel like I’m being jammed,” Johanns said.

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