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Blunt urges delay in START treaty vote

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 18, 2010 - WASHINGTON -- Missouri U.S. Sen.-elect Roy Blunt joined nine other newly elected Republican senators Thursday in urging the Senate to wait until the new Congress begins in January before taking up the START nuclear weapons treaty with Russia.

"Out of respect for our states' voters, we believe it would be improper for the Senate to consider the New START Treaty or any other treaty in a lame duck session," Blunt and the others wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. They contend that "no bilateral strategic arms reduction treaty with the Soviet Union or Russia has ever been ratified during a lame-duck session."

The letter was released Thursday at about the time that President Barack Obama told reporters at a White House meeting on START that Senate approval of the treaty is "imperative" this year, during the current lame-duck session of Congress -- in which Democrats maintain a stronger Senate majority and newly elected senators such as Blunt, currently a U.S. representative from Springfield, have not yet been sworn in. Obama's comments came at a START-related meeting, hosted by Vice President Joe Biden, that featured Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and three of her predecessors in that office.

Obama laid out a case for the Senate passing the treaty now: It's a "cornerstone of our relationship with Russia"; it will aid in securing loose nuclear materials; and if it's not ratified, the United States cannot keep pressure in Iran.

The treaty is a bipartisan matter, Obama said, who noted that it has been fully vetted with 18 hearings, multiple briefings and support from military leadership.

Obama said he's "prepared to go the extra mile" by supporting $80 billion for modernizing nuclear stockpiles over next decade and $4.5 billion over next five years.

"This is not a matter that can be delayed," Obama said. "This is not about politics."

Two thirds of the Senate -- 67 senators -- must vote to approve any treaty, and a key Republican swing vote, Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., recently asked that the Senate debate and vote on the treaty be postponed until the new Congress begins. To approve the treaty, Senate Democrats would need the support of eight Republicans this year or 14 in the new Congress, in which Republicans picked up seats.

In their letter, Blunt and the other newly elected Senators wrote that "few matters will more directly impact our security than arms control agreements like New START that would dramatically reduce the U.S. nuclear deterrent in a strategic environment that is becoming ever more perilous." They wrote that they wanted to "review the treaty's negotiating record, which is a critically important component in putting the pact in full context."

In addition to Blunt, the letter was signed by senators-elect Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, John Boozman of Arkansas, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mike Lee of Utah, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Rob Portman of Ohio and Marco Rubio of Florida.

Rob Koenig is an award-winning journalist and author. He worked at the STL Beacon until 2013.

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