Dec 112010

The Lamest Duck

As newly-elected members of the Senate pointed out in a letter to Majority Leader Reid: “no bilateral strategic arms reduction treaty with the Soviet Union or Russia has ever been ratified during a lame duck session.” Let’s go further: Has any major bilateral U.S. treaty ever been ratified during a lame duck session?

The 20th Amendment (ratified in 1933) established the current dates of Federal office terms, and consequently made possible the modern Congressional “lame duck” session. Since 1933, there have been a total of eighteen lame duck sessions, including the current one.

A study of every treaty ratified by the United States would, though desirable, take more time than is left in the lame duck session. So we assembled a list of 34 significant United States treaties from 1933 to the present from multiple sources (including the State Department ). [For the list of treaties examined, see our Webmemo: Treaty Ratification During Lame Duck Sessions.]

We then cross-checked the Senate ratification dates with the specific dates of each lame duck session. Our findings confirmed the assertion already made (that no bilateral strategic arms reduction treaty with the Soviet Union or Russia has ever been ratified during a lame duck session) and went much further. Though some treaties may have been signed or entered into force during a lame duck session, we found no major treaty that has been ratified by the Senate during a lame-duck session.

Important legislation has in fact been passed during lame duck sessions (such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in 1994), but it must be emphasized that these were not treaties, but executive agreements. While congressional approval is not required for executive agreements, treaties must be approved by a two-thirds majority of the Senate. The requirement for a supermajority makes ratifying a treaty one of the most significant legislative acts a Senate can perform.

The recent midterm elections have placed even more pressure on the passage of the New START treaty during the lame duck session. The Administration will have much more trouble passing the treaty in the new Senate. However, to force action on the treaty at this time ignores those elected to replace many of the Senators who would vote to pass New START.

The ratification of New START by the lame duck Senate would not only ignore the message sent by American citizens in their election of new senators, but also defy the precedent set by American foreign affairs since 1933.

Co-authored by Matthew Kuchem for Heritage

Then there is the Quid Pro Quo in Continuing Resolution for New START Treaty…

The New START Treaty is promoted by the Obama Administration as a means toward a reduction of nuclear weapons.The Treaty is fatally flawed within the four corners of the document and in a side agreement to dismantle missile defense in consideration for Russia’s signature. And now the Obama Administration and allies in the House and Senate have inserted a position in a draft of the Continuing Resolution to condition money for nuclear modernization on ratification of the Treaty.

The Continuing Resolution is the appropriations bill that will keep the government funded into next year. Clearly, liberals in the House and the Obama Administration are trying to use the appropriations process to force Senate consideration of the New START Treaty.

Note this provision in the House Democrats’ DISCUSSION DRAFT (Dec. 5, 2010, 12:18 a.m., page 56) of the year-long appropriations continuing resolution:

SEC. 2412. Notwithstanding section 1101, the level for Atomic Energy Defense Activities National Nuclear Security Administration Weapons Activities shall be $7,008,835,000: Provided, That $624,000,000 of such amount shall be available only upon the Senate giving its advice and consent to the ratification of the Treaty between the United States of America and the Russian Federation on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (commonly known as the New START Treaty).

This is an outrage to condition the modernization of our nuclear forces on the ratification of a Treaty. This is a quid pro quo to make sure that Republicans in the Senate are pressured, by millions in nuclear modernization monies, to vote for the ratification of the New START Treaty.


Stopping START

The bilateral arms control treaty between the United States and Russia, known as New START, has critical implications for the security of the U.S. and its allies. In a recent article, Senator John Barrasso (R–WY) addresses concerns regarding the treaty. They include limits on U.S. missile defense capabilities, a weak verification regime, and an outdated view of the world that embraces the paradigm of the Cold War by focusing only on Russia with its porous limits on nuclear warheads, delivery vehicles, and inspection regimes instead of looking at the new and shifting 21st-century challenges.

For Barrasso, this nuclear arms treaty hits close to home. On October 26, one-ninth of the United States’ land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles went offline at F. E. Warren Air Force. The Senator asserts that by ratifying New START, the Senate risks taking America’s nuclear deterrent offline. He is absolutely correct.

This incident certainly reveals the need for the U.S. to modernize its nuclear weapons arsenal as soon as possible in order to maintain its nuclear deterrent. Yet the Administration’s plan is overwhelmingly weighted in favor of sustainment over modernization. Current White House policies bar steps that would lead to the development and procurement of “new nuclear warheads” or “capabilities” to meet new missions in the 21st century.

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