Earlier this week, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) postponed committee consideration of New START until September. Ben Goddard (“Wedge issues go nuclear” 8/4) was kind enough to credit Heritage Action for America for that delay, but he misrepresented our efforts. Heritage Action’s opposition to the treaty stems from serious policy concerns, not anti-Obama politics.
New START focuses exclusively on Russia, while ignoring the nuclear threats posed by Iran and North Korea. It also ignores Russia’s massive tactical nuclear arsenal. In the words of Secretary Henry Kissinger, the treaty also places limits on the “strategic options of future presidents.” This is unacceptable and dangerous.
Another emerging issue — one that has not yet generated much discussion in the U.S. Senate — is the role of the Bilateral Consultative Commission, which can make unilateral changes to the treaty. While those changes must not be substantive, the treaty fails to define a substantive change.
Serious arms control experts share these concerns: Eric Edelman, former undersecretary of defense for policy; Robert Joseph, former undersecretary of state for arms control and international security; former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton; and Paula A. DeSutter, former assistant secretary of state for verification and compliance.
Treaty proponents should directly address these concerns. Instead, Mr. Goddard dismisses treaty critics as part of the “Bolton/Gingrich/Palin wing of the GOP.” If the treaty is flawless, why would he, Sen. Kerry or President Obama shy away from this debate?
Heritage Action for America is committed to engaging in a constructive, policy-based debate. That is precisely why we launched a nationwide campaign last month to educate the American people on the security implications of New START. Up until that point, debate on the treaty consisted of disarmament groups lobbying “quietly behind the scenes.”
Americans are tired of quiet, behind the scenes lobbying. They want and deserve to be part of this important national debate. The delayed committee vote gives Americans that chance. It also gives senators a chance to view the full negotiating records, something former Sen. Sam Nunn said was essential.
It is time for treaty proponents to stop playing politics. Conservatives are eager for a real debate, as are the American people.
Ease legislation gridlock, and require 55 for cloture
Christian Dorsey and Elliott
Oakley, Government Affairs team
at the Economic Policy Institute
This session, Congress has been delayed by a search for the elusive 60th vote in the Senate. But 60 votes? The Senate passes legislation with a simple majority — so, what happened to 51?
Cloture requires the vote of three-fifths of senators to end debate on a bill to proceed to the actual vote, won by a simple majority. Thus, before a majority can rule, a supermajority must be assembled. Many believe the Senate’s original design included unlimited debate; however, it is the historical accident of 1806, when unnecessary provisions were stripped from the Senate rules to streamline proceedings. Thrown out was the Senate’s “previous question motion,” which today allows the House to limit its debate. Whoops. Full debate becomes stymie—the imposing filibuster.
The essential question for filibuster reform: How can the Senate create a meaningful minority voice and promote bipartisanship while revitalizing the body’s efficient and effective legislative power? For guidance, we turn to the vision of the Founders, who preserved minority voice while yielding to majority rule. As Thomas Jefferson said: “Where the law of the majority ceases to be acknowledged, there government ends.” Two centuries later, we have lost sight of his vision for our republic.
The Senate could break the gridlock by lowering the number of votes necessary to invoke cloture. Consider a system where only 55 votes are required for cloture. Ostensibly, this would only benefit the majority by providing a lower threshold for advancing legislation. For the 41 Senate Republicans, the only hope of offering alternative legislation is to persuade 19 others to join on — an unlikely proposition. The current system actually creates a definitive incentive for any minority party to stall action to weaken the majority. Their aim is to be restored to the majority, beginning the cycle anew. With this simple reform, however, the minority party is compelled to craft viable proposals worthy of bipartisan support in order to have enough votes to generate an open and full debate—legislating rather than obstructing.
It’s understandable that politicians would fear reform that toughens their workload. But the American people need representatives on both sides who are ready to legislate. Is that too much to ask of legislators?