The Cable

Kyl says no lame duck vote on New START

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), the key Republican vote in the drive to ratify the New START treaty, said Tuesday he doesn't believe the treaty should be voted on this year.

"When Majority Leader Harry Reid asked me if I thought the treaty could be considered in the lame duck session, I replied I did not think so given the combination of other work Congress must do and the complex and unresolved issues related to START and modernization," Kyl said in a statement. "I appreciate the recent effort by the Administration to address some of the issues that we have raised and I look forward to continuing to work with Senator Kerry, DOD, and DOE officials." ?

Kyl spoke with Defense Secretary Robert Gates about it last week. A possible meeting between Kyl, Biden, Gates, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in the works and could happen on Wednesday. The treaty was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by a vote of 14 to 4 on Sept. 16, and is awaiting a vote on the Senate floor.

The Washington Post reported that the White House is offering an additional $4.1 billion for nuclear facilities. This latest offer comes on top of the other promises related to nuclear modernization, which have a price tag totaling over $80 billion, that the administration has offered in an effort to win over Senate Republicans.

A senior administration official, speaking to the Financial Times, warned if the treaty isn't ratified this year, all that money for the nuclear complex could go away. "There is a risk that not moving ahead [in the Senate now] could shatter the fragile consensus on modernizing the nuclear complex," the official said.

But a senior GOP aide tells The Cable on Tuesday that the GOP senators haven't actually received the new offer of money for the nuclear labs, nor have they received an updated version of a classified report on the nation's nuclear complex, known as the "1251 report."

"There was no offer of $4 billion for modernization. The administration hasn't even delivered the new 1251 plan yet," the aide said. When asked what this means for START ratification during the lame duck session, the aide said, "The administration's eleventh hour bid is coming two hours too late."

Administration officials say privately that they are becoming increasingly frustrated with Kyl, and increasingly skeptical that he is negotiating in good faith. They even sent a team to Arizona to present him with the administration's response to his requests, including the broad outlines of the additional $4 billion offer for modernization, one official said.

According to this administration official, Kyl asked the administration to secure the full 2011 budget request for modernization, to expedite the budget process for 2012, to show him the 2012 budget request before the Senate vote on New START, and to update the long-term plan that was submitted to Congress in May on modernization.

"They asked us for certain things, we worked through the process to give it to them," the administration source said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is waiting for the administration to strike a deal with Kyl before scheduling the debate and vote on New START. Reid's spokesman Jim Manley told The Hill, "Now that the election is over, hopefully the White House and Senate Republicans can reach an agreement that will allow us to ratify the treaty by the end of the year."

Meanwhile, senior administration officials keep driving home their message that New START must be done during the lame duck.

"Before this session of Congress ends, we urge senators to approve an arms control treaty that would again allow U.S. inspectors access to Russian strategic sites and reduce the number of nuclear weapons held by both nations to a level not seen since the 1950s," wrote Gates and Clinton in a Washington Post op-ed Monday. "Time is running out for this Congress."

President Obama told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev last week that he was committed to ratifying the treaty during the lame duck session, calling it his "top foreign policy priority" for the rest of the year.

Some top Democrats are also calling for the treaty to be postponed until next year. 

"I'm a firm yes vote, but the lame duck session should focus on jobs, the economy, and reducing the debt," Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) told The Cable. "We can take care of the START treaty after the first of the year."

Getty Images

The Cable

McKeon: Defense budgets must go up, not down

The incoming head of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) said that he will use his new perch to push for increases in defense spending -- beyond what the White House and Defense Secretary Robert Gates are calling for.

McKeon, speaking at a policy conference organized by the Foreign Policy Initiative, a conservative think tank, said that while he supports Gates' drive to find $100 billion in efficiencies within the defense budget, he is worried that, once the defense secretary identifies possible cuts, deficit-minded officials and lawmakers will seek to take that money away from the Pentagon.

"I am extremely concerned that no matter what the intentions of Secretary Gates may be, the administration and some in Congress will not allow the secretary to keep the savings identified in his efficiencies initiative," McKeon said. "Sustaining growth for the Department of Defense requires leadership from the White House and the Office of Management and Budget. Once savings from this efficiencies initiative are identified, what's to stop them from taking this money, too?"

In fact, the two co-chairs of the president's Debt Commission proposed last week to divert this money away from the defense budget. They said the $100 billion Gates is looking to save should be applied directly to the deficit, and also proposed other drastic cuts in defense programs and entitlements as part of the overall effort to solve the nation's fiscal problems.

As far as Gates is concerned, his cost-saving measures are not meant to enable overall cuts in the defense budget. He is seeking to protect 1 percent real growth in the budget, which has more than doubled -- from just over $300 billion in 2001 to almost $700 billion for fiscal 2010 -- when the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are taken into account.

But McKeon said that even 1 percent real growth going forward is not good enough.

"One percent real growth in the defense budget over the next five years is a net cut for investment and procurement accounts. A defense budget in decline portends an America in decline.  It will undermine our ability to project power, strengthen our adversaries and weaken our alliances," McKeon said.

He pointed to the report of an independent panel created by Congress to respond to Gates' Quadrennial Defense Review led by former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley and former Defense Secretary William Perry to support his argument. That panel recommended significant new investments in naval power and ever increasing defense budgets in the future.

"Let me put this in the simplest terms possible: cutting defense spending amidst two wars is a red line for me and should be a red line for all Americans," McKeon said.

In a roundtable discussion with reporters following his remarks, McKeon said he did not expect the fiscal 2010 defense authorization bill, which is now before the Senate, to be passed this year.

"For the first time in 40 years, we may not have a defense authorization bill passed," he said. "We need to get it done before the appropriations bill gets done so we can maintain relevance."

He also maintained his opposition to including a measure in the defense bill that would repeal the ban on gays serving openly in the military, which is currently supported by the Democratic leadership.

"Whether it be the hate crimes legislation, immigration, or don't ask don't tell, the defense bill has been used as a vehicle to divide instead of unite the Congress," McKeon said. "This must end today."