Updated at 12:15 p.m. on December 2.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., said this morning that he hopes to have a deal on a New START treaty “in the next days,” even as the top GOP negotiator continued to insist that Congress must first cut a deal on expiring income tax cuts.
“It’s my hope that these conversations that we’re having and the process that is in place is going to produce, hopefully, a positive outcome, and we’re certainly going to work in good faith to try to make that happen in the next days, hours,” Kerry said during one of a series of Senate floor speeches by Democratic senators today in which they urged ratification of the nuclear-arms pact with Russia.
According to Kerry, talks involving him, Vice President Joe Biden, and Sens. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., John McCain, R-Ariz., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn., are down to just a few issues.
The GOP senators are still seeking information from the Obama administration on the agreements reached on missile defense at last month's NATO summit in Lisbon, Portugal, Kerry said. The White House is also still responding to a set of questions sent earlier this week by senators, he said.
Kerry’s remarks echo assertions by Corker, who has said that the progress in talks accelerated this week. In September, Corker and Isakson, along with Foreign Relations ranking member Richard Lugar, R-Ind., joined Kerry and other committee Democrats in voting to approve the treaty and send it to the Senate floor.
But a Kyl spokesman today said chances for a deal are falling. "The Senate must first address preventing the nation’s largest tax hike in its history,” Kyl spokesman Ryan Patmintra said. “Congress must also ensure that the federal government doesn’t shut down. With the dwindling calendar Congress has left during lame duck, it’s looking increasingly difficult that there will be sufficient time to address START.”
Patmintra said Kyl is not suggesting a deal in which Democrats trade tax cuts for action on New START, but only pointing out the reality of the Senate calendar, since the GOP wants two weeks of floor debate on ratification of the Treaty.
Congressional aides have suggested action on the treaty could come as part of a bargain in which Democrats agree to temporarily agree to extend all expiring 2001 and 2003 income tax cuts. And many see Kyl as hinting at such a deal.
Many Senate Democrats ripped Kyl on Wednesday for saying that a deal on tax cuts needed to be in place by Monday for there to be time for New START to reach the floor. While it's unlikely to be set by then, such a deal on temporary tax extensions does appear increasingly likely, according to congressional aides.
Kerry praised Kyl’s work on New START, saying the Arizona senator is working “calmly and quietly and in good faith to try to resolve some very legitimate questions from members on his side of the aisle.”