Amid Mitch McConnell’s whining about a lack of time and the need for delay, it is worth saying a few words on why consideration of the treaty in the current session was necessary. Especially because the vote will be very close, and ratification will hinge on a handful of votes, it is important to counter the common complaint that the “rush” to ratify has forced otherwise sympathetic Republicans to oppose the treaty. We are not watching the defection of Republicans from the pro-treaty camp on account of procedural issues, but rather the revelation of Republican opposition that was already there. The treaty has not been rushed, but supposing that it had been that would be an exceptionally poor reason to vote down an important arms control treaty. Obviously, most of the people claiming that the treaty has been “rushed” also claim that the treaty is flawed. Since their substantive arguments about the treaty’s “flaws” are very poor, they are taking cover behind a procedural complaint to lend their basically indefensible position some credibility in the eyes of people who haven’t been following the debate very closely. Anti-START Republicans are opponents in search of pretexts, and a procedural argument about the lame-duck session is another one of these.
Once one accepts that the treaty is important for national security, because it re-establishes a needed verification regime, then the sooner verification can resume the better it will be for the U.S. As a delay until next year would have put off the resumption of inspections for many more months, it would have been a bad idea even if the new members of the Senate would have supported the treaty. As we all understand, virtually all of the new Republican Senators would not vote for this treaty in its current form, and their involvement in the ratification debate would make it that much more difficult to approve the treaty. If every largely sympathetic Republican* voted for the treaty this week, the treaty would get 10 Republican votes in this Congress now that Cochran has declared his support. It is still possible that the treaty will fall short later this week. Once the new Congress is seated, three of those votes are automatically gone: Bennett, Voinovich, and Gregg are retiring, and they will be replaced by Senators that are much less likely to support the treaty. As the number of sympathetic Republicans shrinks by three in January, the overall number of Republicans increases by five. That means that the treaty will probably have eight fewer votes than it does now, and there simply aren’t that many votes to lose.
* Lugar, Collins, Snowe, Voinovich, Gregg, Isakson, Murkowski, Corker, and Bennett, plus Cochran
Update: Scott Brown has announced he will support the treaty. Based on his ties with McCain and his skepticism earlier in the year, this was by no means certain. It’s a very good sign for the ratification vote later this week. Corker is also on board.