The Cable

Law of the Sea Treaty: dead in the water?

As of today, 34 Republican senators have expressed opposition to Senate ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty, a number that would add up to rejection of the treaty if all those senators vote against it when it comes to the Senate floor.

"This is Victory Day for U.S. sovereignty in the Senate," Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), a passionate opponent of the treaty, proclaimed on the Senate floor late Monday. "With 34 opposed to LOST (the treaty), this debate is over."

Inhofe's declaration of victory came after two Republican senators, Romney surrogates Rob Portman (R-OH) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), announced Monday they would vote against the treaty.

"We simply are not persuaded that decisions by the International Seabed Authority and international tribunals empowered by this treaty will be more favorable to U.S. interests than bilateral negotiations, voluntary arbitration, and other traditional means of resolving maritime issues," the two senators said in a joint statement. "No international organization owns the seas, and we are confident that our country will continue to protect its navigational freedom, valid territorial claims, and other maritime rights."

In effect, Portman and Ayotte added their names to the 31 GOP senators who expressed their opposition to the treaty in a July 16 letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). That letter was signed by Sens. Inhofe, Jon Kyl, Roy Blunt, Pat Roberts, David Vitter, Ron Johnson, John Cornyn, Jim DeMint, Tom Coburn, Mitch McConnell, Chuck Grassley, John Boozman, Rand Paul, Jim Risch, Mike Lee, Jeff Sessions, Mike Crapo Orrin Hatch, John Barrasso, Richard Shelby, Dean Heller, John Thune, Richard Burr, Saxby Chambliss, Dan Coats, John Hoeven, Roger Wicker, Jerry Moran, Marco Rubio, Pat Toomey, and Mike Johanns.

The 34th ‘no' is Georgia Sen. Johnny Isaakson, whose website displayed a message this week vowing that the senator would vote against the treaty.

With 67 votes  needed for ratification, the agreement does indeed look to be in trouble. But for proponents of the treaty, it's full steam ahead.

The office of Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA), the lead sponsor and driving force behind Senate ratification of the treaty, told The Cable that he will not be deterred and intends to keep moving the ratification process forward.

"Senator Kerry has been here long enough to know that vote counts and letters are just a snapshot of where our politics are in this instant, and it's not news to anyone that right now we're in the middle of a white hot political campaign season where ideology is running in overdrive," said Kerry spokeswoman Jodi Seth. "That's why Senator Kerry made it clear there wouldn't be a vote before election and until everyone's had the chance to evaluate the treaty on the facts and the merits away from the politics of the moment."

"No letter or whip count changes the fact that rock-ribbed Republican businesses and the military and every living Republican secretary of state say that this needs to happen, and that's why it's a matter of ‘when' not ‘if' for the Law of the Sea," Seth continued. "The Chamber of Commerce, the oil and gas and telecommunications industries are some of the most effective in this town because they stick to their guns and they've been unequivocal about the need to get this done. They'll keep at it, and we will continue the work of answering questions and building the public record."


The Cable

Top Senate Dem: No sequestration deal without new taxes

Senate Democrats won't agree to any deal to avoid $1.2 trillion on impending defense and entitlement cuts without new taxes, according to Senate leadership member and former "supercommittee" chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA).

The cuts, mandated by the law Congress passed last year to avoid a debt-ceiling crisis, would automatically cut $600 billion each from defense spending and entitlement spending over the next 10 years, when compared with current projections. Republicans have offered various plans to avoid the cuts, but none of them come with new revenues, so none of them will be accepted by Democrats, Murray said.

"As you all remember, sequestration was included in the bipartisan Budget Control Act to give both sides an incentive to compromise," Murray said in a Monday speech at the Brookings Institution. "But Republicans weren't willing to offer any concessions to get to a deal - and now they want to have their cake and eat it too. They all want the deficit reduction, but without any of the bipartisan compromise or shared sacrifice."

Murray said that Democrats insisted on new revenues during the debt-ceiling debate and also during the supercommittee negotiations -- and they are not going to alter that stance to avoid the sequestration cuts, which would automatically go into effect in January if Congress does not act.

"So anyone who tells you sequestration is going to simply disappear because both sides want to avoid it is either fooling themselves or trying to fool you," she said. "It is going to have to be replaced, and that replacement is going to have to be balanced."

Murray also said that Democrats would never agreed to avoid the defense cuts unless the entitlement cuts were also avoided. She is working with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) on legislation that would require an analysis of the impact of all the cuts. But if the GOP doesn't play ball, Murray indicated that Democrats would let the cuts go through and then argue that Republicans were to blame.

"I will not agree to a deal that throws middle-class families under the bus and forces them to bear this burden alone," she said. "Unless Republicans end their commitment to protecting the rich above all else, our country is going to have to face the consequences of Republican intransigence."

On the GOP side, the fight against the sequestration cuts is being led by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) and freshman Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH).

Last week, Ayotte -- who is being groomed as a GOP leader on foreign policy -- criticized the administration for refusing to prepare for the cuts.

"As commander in chief, President Obama can't ‘lead from behind' on sequestration," Ayotte said in a  July 9 statement. "Our national security is at stake, along with a million jobs in the nation's defense industrial base. President Obama is ignoring dire warnings from his own Defense Secretary and industry leaders to avoid these devastating cuts, refusing to address one of the foremost security threats to our nation. It's a fundamental failure of leadership that I find deeply troubling."

In May, Obama surrogate and former top defense official Michèle Flournoy predicted that there would be no progress on avoiding the sequestration cuts until the lame-duck session of Congress, after voters have gone to the polls in November.

"The onus is really on Congress to exercise the discipline, the political courage, the pragmatism to reach a budget deal that avoids sequestration, which would impose draconian cuts in a mindless way that would have severe and negative impacts for our national security," she said.

Allison Good contributed reporting.