The GOP leader on the New START treaty with Russia, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), linked the administration's drive to ratify the treaty this month to the extension of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy today. The connection between these two issues threatens to pit the White House's domestic political priorities against its foreign policy agenda.
"If the taxes all can't be resolved and voted on and completed and spending for the government for the next 10 months completed by, like, next Monday, I don't know how there's enough time to complete START," Kyl said, according to The Hill.
Kyl's statement could be taken two ways. On the one hand, he's now admitting there could be time to debate and vote on the treaty during the lame duck session, which would represent a change from his previous position. On the other hand, he's clearly saying that without a deal on the tax cuts that the GOP can live with, there will be no agreement to bring up New START.
But Kyl's remarks could also simply be taken at face value. If the fight over the tax cuts drags on, there just might not be enough days in the calendar to fully vet the treaty before the Christmas break. But White House spokesman Robert Gibbs promised today that the vote on New START would happen by then.
Administration officials seem confused by Kyl's oscillations. In private, they feel the negotiations are going well and are scrambling to answer every outstanding question posed by him and other Republican senators. But public statements such as this -- and letters like the one he wrote to Obama on Monday -are perceived by the administration as shots across their bow.
The administration has already put together a package worth over $85 billion over ten years to respond to Kyl's demands for increases in funding for nuclear modernization. Extending all the Bush tax cuts over that period, even after subtracting the tax cuts for lower- and middle-class Americans that Democrats also want to extend, is estimated to add $700 billion to the debt.
The question is: How badly does the White House want to fulfill its pledge to meet the Christmas deadline to pass New START, and will the White House's full court press on the issue be enough to get the GOP to strike a deal?
President Barack Obama invited former Secretary of State Colin Powell to the White House today, and both men spoke to the press about the need to ratify New START as a matter of national security.
"I fully support this treaty and I fully hope the Senate will give its advice and consent to this treaty as soon as possible," said Powell.
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John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.