Senate votes to begin debate on START

December 16, 2010

By Stephen Dinan-The Washington Times

The Senate voted Wednesday to begin debating a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia in a test vote that signals the treaty – which would cut the number of nuclear weapons that the U.S. andRussia have deployed – has enough support to be ratified.

The 66-32 vote on the so-called New START, and an earlier 81-19 vote in favor of a broad tax-cut package, marked a rare outbreak of bipartisanship at a time when tempers ran high and time ran short on the 111th Congress.

Things got so heated that lawmakers exchanged barbs on who best understood the meaning of Christmas. Republicans complained that Democrats were forcing the schedule perilously close to the Christian holiday.

“I do not need to hear the sanctimonious lectures of Sens. Kyl andDeMint to remind me of what Christmas means,” shot back SenateMajority Leader Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat who has packed the last-minute schedule full of controversial issues and has threatened to keep lawmakers working to the very last day. He was referring to Republican Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona and Jim DeMint of South Carolina.

In retaliation for the loaded calendar, several Republican senators have said they will insist that the clerk read the entire 1,924-page spending bill Democrats unveiled just this week – a move that could block the floor for days. The GOP says Democrats are overplaying their hand in a lame-duck session by trying to jam the spending through Congress.

But at least for one day, bipartisan coalitions made progress on big issues, including the arms-reduction treaty that President Obamadesperately wants to see ratified as a year-end foreign-policy coup.

The 66 votes to begin debate on the treaty show backers are just one shy of the 67 needed to secure ratification, and Sen. Evan Bayh, Indiana Democrat, who was absent for Wednesday’s vote, is expected to support the treaty. In addition, several Republicans who voted against starting debate said they still could support final ratification.

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