Monday, November 29, 2010

Bipartisanship Follies

Every week brings a new benchmark in bipartisanship.

For the new START Treaty, there have been at least two. Earlier this month the Wall Street Journal reported

The Senate's No. 2 Republican said Tuesday that he opposed a vote this year on President Barack Obama's signature arms control treaty, dealing a blow to a top White House foreign policy priority and possibly to U.S.-Russian relations.

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona said there wasn't time to deal with his concerns over a treaty that would cut U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear weapons deployments by about one third and restore weapons inspections that were halted nearly a year ago. Treaty ratification requires 67 votes in the Senate. Mr. Kyl's decision likely pushes a vote to next year, when the Senate Democratic majority shrinks to 53 from 58.

Mr. Kyl's announcement took the White House by surprise. A White House official said that just last Friday, officials from the Defense Department, the National Nuclear Security Administration and the U.S. Strategic Command briefed the senator and offered an additional $4.1 billion over the next five years that he had demanded to modernize the remaining nuclear arsenal.

Kyl (allegedly) didn't like the deal, demanded a concession (more money for nuclear weapons), and got it. Now those goalposts are being moved again for, according to The Washington Post

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who has reserved judgment on how she will vote until the resolution comes to the floor, said it could make a difference if Obama could get George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, both former presidents, to appear with him in support of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START.

Neither Bush has taken a public position on the pact, which would continue trends they established with the original START agreement signed in 1991 by the elder Bush and the Moscow Treaty approved by the younger Bush in 2002.

The New START treaty continues most verification procedures established in the 1991 agreement that ended last December while adding new ones; it also lowers slightly to 1,550 the deployed warheads allowed under the 2002 pact, which were 1,700 to 2,200.

Ratification of the agreement has been endorsed by several individuals who have served a Republican administration, each of whom probably knows more about national defense and nuclear proliferation than the oil industry executives, the profession of the 41st and 42rd presidents. Consider: Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Dick Lugar; former Bush-41 National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft; former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger; former Secretary of State James Baker; former Secretary of State George Schultz; Reagan Chief of Staff Kenneth Duberstein; Reagan Chief of Staff Howard Baker; and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

They all may be wrong, of course, but they all are Republicans which, in normal times, would be considered bipartisan support. This apparently is insufficient for Collins, who says "It would be wonderful if President [George H.W.] Bush would come out for the treaty. That would be so powerful and definitely help."

Nor, apparently, is it enough for David Broder, who maintains Senate Minority Whip Jon

Kyl and Obama have been negotiating through intermediaries and have satisfied each other on most but not all points.

The Republicans could ask Obama to sit down directly with Kyl and see if they can compromise on the rest. That would be a fair first test of Obama's sincerity.

Polls generally show most Americans opposing repeal of health care reform and extending the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy. Yet following the recent election which will result in his elevation to Speaker of the House, Ohio's John Boehner warned "I think it is important for us to lay the groundwork before we begin to repeal this monstrosity" of health care reform. The returning Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, meanwhile offered "if there's some tweaking we need to do with the healthcare bill, I'm ready for some tweaking" and "if we need to work something out with the people who are really rich (on tax cuts), I'll have to look at that."

For his part, the President, who acknowledged a "shellacking" in November and promised "to do a better job," has said also "what I've tried to suggest is that this is one of those times where we've got to put that kind of (partisan) behavior aside, because the American people can't afford it." In February, 2009, as he began his presidency, with big majorities in both chambers of Congress.

It is a strange and wondrous bipartisanship that has Democrats reaching out to the GOP while some Republicans are defiant and media-anointed "moderates" such as Susan Collins are willing to consider supporting a treaty only if an ex-President of her own party gives his blessing. This won't, unfortunately, stop David Broder and others in the media from complaining, after Barack Obama caves, that liberals won't allow the President to compromise.

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