Day 3: Senate minority uses filibuster to hold hostage START arms control treaty

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  • Dale Eisman

The START arms control treaty, largely negotiated during the administration of George W. Bush but signed last year by President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart, Dimitri Medvedev, is yet another hostage to a determined Senate minority’s misuse of the filibuster rule.

“Forty-two Republican senators have blocked action on START, an agreement with implications for the survival of our planet, as a bargaining chip in their negotiations on a tax cut deal with President Obama,” said Bob Edgar, Common Cause’s president.

The START treaty restricts Russia and the U.S. to a maximum of 1,550 deployed warheads each, about 30 percent less than permitted under a 2002 agreement. It also would let the U.S. send inspectors back to Russia to monitor that country’s nuclear arsenal; they’ve been excluded since a predecessor deal lapsed in December 2009. It has been endorsed by secretaries of state from Henry Kissinger to Hillary Clinton.

“This misuse of the filibuster diminishes America’s standing around the world with friends and potential foes alike,” Edgar said. “Left unchecked, it will cripple the ability of future presidents to pursue America’s longstanding goal of a world free from the threat of nuclear annihilation.

“The minority’s stand is particularly perplexing given the support for the treaty from former secretaries of state like Kissinger, James Baker and Colin Powell,” Edgar said, “as well as that of Sen. Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a respected voice on arms control issues on both sides of the partisan aisle.”

Edgar noted that the filibuster rule is designed to protect the Senate minority’s right to a robust debate and promote compromise on critical issues.

“But today’s minority has found a way to use the rule to stifle debate and thwart the principle of majority rule,” Edgar said. “The mere threat of a filibuster has kept Democratic leaders from bringing the treaty to the Senate floor.”

This month, Common Cause is spotlighting how filibuster abuse is hijacking the Congress and blocking action on vital national problems. Common Cause is hosting a forum on filibuster reform on Wednesday, Dec. 15 at the National Press Club.