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Test Vote on START Likely Tuesday

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Updated: 7:41 p.m.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) moved Sunday evening to try to advance the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, setting up a likely Tuesday vote to end debate on President Barack Obama’s No. 1 foreign policy priority and the potential for a final vote on ratification before Christmas.

The Senate debated START on Sunday during a session that lasted from noon to just after 7 p.m. Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) made clear that he would continue to accept proposed GOP amendments to START between Reid’s action Sunday and the vote to end debate, even as he vigorously worked to scuttle Republican attempts to adjust the treaty’s language and reopen negotiations with the Russians.

An amendment offered by Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho) that would have amended the treaty’s preamble was defeated Sunday afternoon, 32-60. Republican Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee voted with the Democrats in opposition, as did Foreign Relations ranking member Dick Lugar (Ind.) and outgoing GOP Sens. Bob Bennett (Utah) and Judd Gregg (N.H.).

Although three Democrats did not vote Sunday — Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Arlen Specter (Pa.) and Ron Wyden (Ore.) — all 58 Senators who caucus with the Democrats are on board with START. Treaties require the votes of two-thirds of all Senators present and voting for ratification, or 67 votes in a full chamber.

Sunday’s vote was followed by votes on two judicial nominations, and roll call votes were possible Monday.

Minority Whip Jon Kyl, the chief Republican negotiator on START, suggested that ratification is a moving target. Even Republicans who have indicated their intention to vote to ratify START on its merits have warned that they might withhold their support if sufficient debate time is not granted.

“I think the prediction that I made a couple of weeks ago that there was not time to do all of these things and do them right has turned out to be true,” the Arizona Republican said. “There clearly is not enough time, and I hope that Republican Members would recognize that.”

Immediately following the Nov. 2 elections, Senate Republicans argued that it would be inappropriate to consider START during the lame-duck session, given the list of legislation the Democrats were pushing. The GOP said the Senate should only turn to START if the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 were extended, a spending bill to keep the government running into 2011 was approved, and enough time remained to adequately debate the treaty.

Obama signed a bipartisan extension of the Bush-era tax cuts into law last week, but the government funding bill has yet to be completed.

Republicans say START should not be considered and voted on with Christmas only days away, and they want to push consideration of the treaty to early next year. Democrats, noting that START hit the floor Thursday, said the treaty is receiving ample debate time.

“We have now spent 5 days having a very good debate on New START and proposed amendments. That is as much time as the Senate spent on START I, and more than it spent on START II and the Moscow Treaty combined, but we are looking forward to continuing the debate this week,” Kerry said in a statement Sunday evening. “This is a big test of the Senate because this treaty is about our national security, not our politics. Our country and the world have watched a spirited exchange of views in the best traditions of the Senate, and there is more to come as we work to address senators’ concerns.”

Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin said the treaty “is ready to be voted on.”

“We’ve had it for months in front of us, we’ve had hundreds of questions answered,”  the Michigan Democrat said.

The Senate is scheduled to open at 10 a.m. Monday for more debate on START, then proceed at 2 p.m. to a closed session in the old Senate chamber, presumably to discuss START in a secure manner. The regular debate on START is set to resume on the floor whenever the closed session ends and may continue late into Monday evening.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is expected to be on Capitol Hill on Monday to brief Senators on START.

Kerry continued Sunday to politely push the Republicans to drop their opposition to START. However, the Foreign Relations chairman began to show signs that he might be losing his patience.

“We have bent over backwards to meet the concerns of our colleagues in a completely nonpolitical, apolitical, totally bipartisan, substantive way that meets the security concerns of the country,” Kerry said in remarks on the Senate floor. “I hope we can find reciprocity with respect to that kind of action here in the United States Senate.” 

Emily Pierce contributed to this report.

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