What Democrats call "killer amendments" are any measures "seeking to remedy an issue with the treaty the Russians steamrolled us on during the negotiation process but which New START proponents do not wish to adopt because protecting American interests will annoy the Russians and perhaps jeopardize entry into force of the treaty," wrote Michael Stransky of the GOP policy organization.
Treaty proponents counter that the agreement would have no effect on the nation's antimissile operations and that at this moment there are no data exchanges or onsite verification of Russia's nuclear arsenal at all.
Meanwhile, Kyl said on Tuesday that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) might have "predicted something prematurely" in voicing confidence this week he had the votes to pass New START, which is to replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.
Even if 60 senators support a cloture vote to proceed to a final ratification tally, "you're playing Russian roulette here because really there's only one vote that counts, and that's final passage," said Kyl, suggesting that Reid might not know for certain if he had a full 67-vote majority until the final vote is taken.
Amid speculation that Senate Democrats might opt to delay the vote until next year rather than risk defeat, Kerry told reporters that Vice President Joseph Biden wants to see ratification considered this year, no matter the outcome.
"He said: 'Look, if we have a chance of losing this now, next year it looks like there's even a greater chance that that would happen; we'd rather lose it now with this crowd that's done the work on it, than go back and start from scratch,'" Kerry said yesterday.
At a press conference in the Capitol yesterday just minutes after the vote to move the treaty forward, Kyl and 11 other Senate Republicans argued that the legislative process is being rushed.
"I have to ask: Why can't we wait until the next Congress?" said Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). "Isn't that the morally upright thing to do, since we've had a lot of people who have been elected who really ought to be the ones who represent the people, having won elections?"
Like Hatch, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said he is inclined to support the treaty, but not amid a rush to pass a number of major bills at the end of a legislative session that saw few other accomplishments. In addition to New START, the White House wants Congress to approve a package to extend tax cuts, an omnibus spending measure to keep the government running, an immigration-reform "Dream Act," and an initiative to lift the military ban on gay service members.
"There's been plenty of time to do these issues," Alexander said. "Yet we have a lame-duck session where the majority seems to be insisting on an encore where there were boos for the concert, and they're bringing in every single issue they can think of."
Speaking before the same television news cameras minutes later, Kerry said Kyl and other Republican fence-sitters had repeatedly demanded delays in bringing New START to the Senate floor over the past several months, only to assert now at the session's 11th hour that it is too late.
"I would ask them in good conscience to ask themselves why we are here at this late hour," said Kerry, flanked by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the chamber's Select Committee on Intelligence.
Kyl and his supporters asked Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) -- who for several months was the lone Senate Republican advocating the treaty -- to "delay the process" pending the Arizona senator's negotiations with the White House over proposed funding increases for the nuclear weapons complex, Kerry said.
The administration last month agreed to spend more than $85 billion over the next decade to modernize the nuclear arsenal and the facilities needed to maintain warheads (see GSN, Nov. 15). White House officials have since griped that despite agreeing on a funding package for the nuclear complex, Kyl has remained mum about whether he would support New START on its merits (see GSN, Nov. 22 and Nov. 19).
Delays in bringing the treaty to the Senate floor began over the summer, when Republicans requested more time to review the agreement text, the hearing record and administration responses to hundreds of lawmaker questions, said Kerry. He granted an additional six weeks, including the August recess, before taking a committee vote.
The panel ultimately passed a resolution to send the accord to the full Senate in a 14-4 vote that included backing from three Republicans (see GSN, Sept. 17).