As the New START nuclear reductions treaty with Russia finally comes to a committee vote this Thursday, the focus is shifting from Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA), who has been quarterbacking the Senate ratification process, to his Republican counterpart Richard Lugar (R-IN), who is attempting to negotiate a compromise between the Obama administration and Senate Republicans.
Last week, Kerry circulated his resolution of ratification for the New START treaty, published exclusively by The Cable. Kerry's version was subsequently panned by Republicans for not addressing several of their concerns.
But when it comes time to vote, senators will likely be working off a new resolution being crafted this week by Lugar. That's because Lugar's version, a draft of which was also obtained exclusively by The Cable, has much more chance of getting GOP committee members' support.
In remarks at George Washington University on Monday night, Lugar said that he was working with Senate Republicans and Democrats, as well as with the administration, to refine his resolution. He also predicted that his draft would be the one to reach the Senate floor.
"I believe that John Kerry will support that," Lugar told the audience, explaining that he was trying to address concerns from both sides of the aisle. The administration held a long negotiating session with Lugar's staff on Monday in an attempt to reach mutually acceptable language.
Even with Lugar still tweaking his resolution, multiple GOP Senate offices told The Cable Monday that they far prefer Lugar's first draft over Kerry's version.
"Lugar's draft does a decent job of addressing about 80 percent of the issues that can be addressed," said one GOP senate aide working on the issue. "Some issues can't be addressed because you can't amend the treaty."
Specifically, Lugar's version includes new or expanded sections addressing several issues of concern for GOP senators, including the sharing of missile telemetry data with the Russians, U.S. plans to develop global strike capabilities, the treaty's potential impact on missile defense, and the powers of the bilateral commission that will oversee treaty implementation.
GOP aides also noted that Lugar's resolution is more comprehensive (22 pages to Kerry's 6) and is written in legislative style, which makes it much easier to amend as it makes its way through the Senate.
And there will be plenty of amendments. Lugar himself is circulating an updated version Tuesday and various Senate offices are preparing language they hope to add when the committee meets Thursday morning.
Kerry's office maintains that having two competing versions of the resolution is just part of the process, a position supported by Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher. But multiple State and Hill sources said that the lack of agreement between Kerry and Lugar was a problem in the negotiations over the resolution language. They pointed out that, though it's not fair to say there's a rift between the two, a joint resolution would have shown unity and cooperation on the issue.
The scenario during the committee meeting is likely to play out as follows: Kerry will introduce his resolution and Lugar will introduce his version as a "substitute amendment." If Lugar's amendment is passed, which is likely, then various other senators will try to issue amendments to it. In the end, some form of a START ratification resolution is likely to pass, either with one GOP vote (Lugar's) or two or three more, at most.
After that, the administration will be pushing to get Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to schedule floor time to debate and vote on the resolution, which needs 67 votes to pass, before the next Congressional recess. Administration officials still hold out hope that is possible.
"I hope to actually get a vote on the floor in the next couple of weeks," Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemeoller said Monday at Georgetown University. "People are wrestling very actively with this issue. This is a new Congressional season but there's actually very little time before they break before the elections."
A Senate leadership aide told The Cable that START was on a list of items for possible consideration before the Congressional recess. "We have many important items to consider and we will need Republican cooperation to do so," the aide said.
In his remarks at George Washington University, Lugar also sounded a pessimistic note on getting the treaty a full vote on the Senate floor before the November midterm elections. He blamed the delay on the current hyper-partisan atmosphere in Congress.
"This is not a happy time in terms of people accomodating each other," he said.
One senior GOP Senate aide close to the issue was also skeptical. He predicted the treaty debate would be pushed to November or even next year.
"Are they drunk? Why would Harry Reid spend any floor time on this, it's just not going to help any Democrat get elected."