This Week in Washington, December 20, 2010

This week should be the last week of this Congress for the year.  The House and Senate need to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) funding the government into next year and then they can leave.  Of course, liberals will try to jam a few more pieces of legislation through the House and Senate before they leave town.  Conservatives should keep a close eye on Washington to make sure they don’t sneak a few billion of new spending past the goaltender in the last moments of this Lame Duck Congress.

The Senate will continue work on the New START Treaty.  They also must pass a CR to fund the government past Tuesday, the date the current short term funding bill expires.  The 9/11 health care bill may come up in the Senate this week and a scaled back defense authorization bill.  The House will come back in to pass a CR and maybe the America COMPETES Act, H.R. 5116.

Over the weekend, some Republicans voted for a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  The L.A. Times reports that “White House officials were ‘elated and emotional’ after Congress agreed to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. armed forces, redeeming one of Obama’s campaign pledges, said a senor aide. But otherwise, the internal response to the wins of the last few days has been a cautious one.”  Many conservatives are watching closely to see if this is an isolated incident or a trend.  Will Senate Republicans will cave on other issues because they are terrified of being called obstructionists.

We shall find out later this week when a critical vote is taken on the New START Treaty.  The AP reports that the vote on the New START Treaty will be close.  A two-thirds vote of Senators is necessary to approve any treaty.

A top Democrat predicted Monday that the Senate will approve a new arms control treaty with Russia, but conceded that it will take “house by house combat” to collect enough votes from recalcitrant Republicans to prevail.

According to the AP, Senate Republican Leader McConnell pledged opposition on the same day that Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) pledged support. 

Schumer said Democrats have now picked up the support of GOP Sen. Thad Cochran Mississippi, and said he thinks Democrats will get the 67 votes the Constitution requires to ratify a treaty. He said Democrats will need nine or 10 Republican votes to prevail.

Conservatives have raised verification and missile defense as the two strongest objections to Senate ratification of the Treaty:

On Sunday, McConnell criticized the treaty’s verification system and expressed concern that the pact would limit U.S. missile defense options even though Obama insisted Saturday that the treaty imposes no restrictions on the system aimed at protecting the United States and its allies from ballistic missile attacks.

The two strongest arguments against the New START Treaty are the following:

  1. Verification– But if Sen. Kerry wants to keep tabs on what Russia’s doing with its nuclear arsenal, he needs to come up with something other than the New START. As Paula A. DeSutter, the former U.S. assistant secretary of state for verification, compliance and implementation, noted in a July 6 Heritage Foundation lecture on the treaty: “An assessment that says it is effectively verifiable would be incorrect.”  Indeed, DeSutter observed, the New START treaty’s verification measures “add nothing to what was there before in the original START treaty.”  Administration officials have praised the treaty for its trailblazing verification provisions, but there is less there than meets the eye. Consider the so-called Unique Identifiers (UIs) which are supposed to allow the U.S. to track the movements of Russia’s intercontinental-range ballistic missile, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and heavy bombers. It just might work… if you could see them. But as DeSutter notes, the treaty’s Annex on Inspection provides that “Each party shall determine for itself the size of the unique identifier.” How many Unique Identifiers do you think can dance on the head of a Russian pin?  Moreover, DeSutter notes, “the inspected party is not supposed to change the Unique Identifier [on each missile and heavy bomber, but] how would you know?” Her final verdict on the UI approach: “I think of this as ‘verification by paint’ or, in a good case, ‘nail polish’.”  Worse, the treaty actually “permits concealment activities… at intercontinental-range ballistic missile bases.” How’s that for transparency, Sen. Kerry?  Summing it up, DeSutter concluded: “The Russians can do so much under this treaty to advance and expand their strategic forces… [yet] our ability to determine whether or not they are doing that and whether it violates the treaty is very, very low. The degree of verifiability is very low.”  If would be great if the U.S. could get “a clear view of Russia’s nuclear arsenal.” But the New START verification provisions give the Russians so much smoke and mirrors, a clear view is impossible.
  2. Missile Defense – The Russians have publicly stated that the treaty limits future U.S. missile defense options. The president denies that. But when two parties to a treaty disagree as to what it means … that’s not good. Beyond the Russian pronouncements, there is good reason to believe the treaty restricts our missile defense capabilities. After the treaty signing, the White House issued a “fact sheet” declaring that it imposed no limits on missile defense. It then withdrew the fact sheet and issued a new one — one that now omitted that “fact.” President Obama may not be troubled by additional barriers to building a comprehensive missile defense. After all, he has already cut the missile interceptor force for protecting the U.S. by 44 percent. However, future presidents who are serious about missile defense would be hamstrung by this treaty, which would be in effect for 10 years.

The Senate vote on this Treaty is going to be close and these two issues have yet to be resolved sufficiently for conservatives to ratify the New START Treaty.  A Treaty that will bind the United States on a hampered missile defense capability.