If START Passes, Then Congress Works

Prospects are now looking good for President Obama's arms-control treaty with Russia, with at least 60 senators poised to vote in its favor this afternoon, vaulting it over a procedural blockade and setting it up for a final vote later this week.

Headlines Monday night and Tuesday morning indicated that a handful of GOP senators had offered their support, after weeks of uncertainty and objection from Republicans.

With GOP Sens. Judd Gregg (NH), George Voinovich (OH), Richard Lugar (IN), Olympia Snowe (ME), Susan Collins (ME), Bob Corker (TN), Scott Brown (MA), and Bob Bennett (UT), Democrats will have the 67 votes they need to ratify it.

If they do, it will cap off a highly productive lame-duck session in which Congress resolved nearly every issue placed on its to-do list by year-end expiration dates, automatic triggers, and political last chances.

And it will have done this just a month and a half removed from the rank partisanship of the November 2010 midterms, which left, churning in its wake, serious doubts over Washington's ability to agree on anything.

Since Thanksgiving, Congress has extended the expiring Bush tax cuts, extended expiring unemployment benefits, passed food safety legislation, prevented Medicare reimbursement rates from automatically dropping, repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and set Estate Tax rates to prevent a scheduled hike next year.

The only thing Republicans and Democrats can't agree on is spending. With an omnibus appropriations bill held up amid GOP objections in the Senate, the federal government is being funded at the same levels via a temporary provision.

If New START passes, Congress will defy the guiding post-election wisdom that said Republicans had succeeded in November by refusing to hand Obama any achievements and that, with the House majority and better Senate numbers on the way in January, they would have little reason to agree with him now.

The arms-control treaty not only needs 67 votes for ratification, it's a deal Obama negotiated on his signature international issue, nuclear nonproliferation, and one of the administration's chief arguments for speedy ratification is that, if the Senate stymies the president on this, it will damage his credibility with Russia and make him look bad internationally. Which sounds like something the GOP would want, but apparently eight of them don't see it that way.

If New START passes, faith in the legislative process might--just might--be restored.

Thumbnail image credits: cliff1066/Flickr, Wikimedia Commons