Lugar predicts START will get 67 votes if Reid can persuade GOP to end debate

Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Sunday that the biggest hurdle to ratifying the New START treaty is getting it to a final vote.

Lugar has said all along that he believes at least nine Republicans will vote to ratify the treaty in the end — giving Democrats the 67 votes they need. But Lugar suggested Sunday that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) may have trouble ending debate and bringing it up for a final vote.

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“Several Republicans will support it, and I join the chairman in believing that there are the votes there. The problem is really getting to that final vote,” Lugar said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry (D-Mass.), who also appeared on the program, reiterated his prediction the treaty would pass.

“I believe it will pass, and I believe there will be a vote,” he said.

Lugar said Democrats should not move to vote immediately on the treaty.

“We still have a good number of amendments to be heard, and we will do our work shortly today, as a matter of fact, to try to move things on,” Lugar said.

The Senate will convene at 12 p.m. Sunday and vote on an amendment to the treaty sponsored by Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) at around 3 p.m.

Senate aides say Reid could file a motion to end debate on the treaty as soon as today, which means the Senate would vote to end a GOP-led filibuster on Tuesday. That could bring a final vote on ratification as soon as Wednesday.

The Republican conference could hold ranks and defeat the motion to end debate, which requires 60 votes, prolonging the debate for several days.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) has said Republicans need more time to review the treaty.

Kerry has warned, however, that if ratification is postponed beyond the end of the year, it could take months longer. He predicts that incoming senators would demand new hearings and briefings on the treaty before allowing a vote on ratification.

Lugar warned that if the Senate fails to ratify the treaty, “It’s a very bad picture” for U.S. national security and diplomacy.

“The importance of this is the Russians are important to us,” he said.

Lugar said “it’s very important” to have U.S. inspectors in Russia keeping track of the more than 15,000 nuclear warheads that are estimated to exist in the country.

He said Russia is a crucial partner in addressing the national security threats posed by Iran and North Korea.

“It's very important that we have negotiations with the Russians, as we will proceed, then, to take a look at the tactical nuclear weapons, other ways the Russians can work with us against nuclear in Iran or North Korea,” Lugar said.

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