New START waits as senators bicker over time

Democrats insist treaty is urgent

START has stalled in the Senate.

While senators spent Thursday debating a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia called New START, a tiff over how much more discussion time should be scheduled temporarily froze action on the measure.

Democrats want to act now, saying that ratifying the treaty immediately is a matter of national security. Republicans say not so fast, and are pushing for several days to review and possibly amend the treaty.

Republicans accused Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, of trying to jam the ratification vote through the chamber before the Christmas break while juggling a loaded legislative calendar.

“You’d never enter into a contract - buy a car or buy a house, for example - with the degree of uncertainty or disagreement in the parties as to what the terms mean as you would” with this treaty, said Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican.

“This is a very serious proposition that starts with a fundamental disagreement between the parties.”

Democrats countered that Republicans had months to debate and review the document, which President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed in April.

“The majority of arguments I’ve heard on this treaty are about process and politics. There is widespread support on the substance,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on European affairs. “For senators to be voting no for political reasons is just irresponsible.”

Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, added the Senate has held about 20 hearings on the treaty.

“It becomes pretty obvious, doesn’t it? This isn’t about authoring amendments or changing” the treaty, Mr. Durbin said. “This is about delaying the ultimate passage of this critical treaty for the safety of the United States.”

By Thursday evening, when it became apparent that Republicans wouldn’t back down in their the demand for more debate time, Mr. Reid was poised to stop debate and move forward with a $1.1 trillion measure to continue funding the federal government through the end of September. Mr. Reid is expected to revisit the treaty in the coming days.

New START calls for the United States and Russia to reduce their deployed nuclear arsenals to 1,550 warheads each, and would limit missiles and other delivery vehicles.

Some Republicans express worry that wording in the treaty’s preamble on the relationship between strategic offensive and defensive weapons could allow Russia to withdraw from the pack if the U.S. bolsters its missile defense.

Some in the GOP also fear that Russia will violate the terms of the treaty and that the verification requirements are too weak.

“Even if we could trust Russia, there are numerous other threats such as North Korea and Iran, which have repeatedly shown hostility to the United States and to our allies,” said Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican. “We should never abandon our defenses and sacrifice our deterrent in the face of increasing international belligerence.”

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