Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Well, it's now official, by a vote of 71 to 26 the U.S. Senate has just passed the "New" Start nuclear arms treaty with Russia in a stunning victory for the Obama Administration after the Nov. 2nd mid-term elections saw Democrats lose control of the U.S. House of Representatives by historic numbers and their power trimmed significantly in the U.S. Senate.

Today, however, it was all eyes on the upper chamber's members, as under Art. 2, Section 2, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution it is the Senate which has the constitutional prerogative to accept or reject international treaties negotiated by the Executive branch.

When it came down to it, and in spite of this party's best efforts in contacting several Senators to urge them to reject this ill-advised treaty, the U.S. Senate has now ratified it by the "supermajority" required by the Constitution making it the "law of the land" as much as any other law or constitutional provision, (stay tuned for a discussion on the desirability of such an outcome and the historical context of the applicable constitutional provisions adoption by the Continental Congress, spoiler warning for inquisitive minds, google "Bricker Amendment").

Senate Republicans, in spite of their initial opposition to the treaty, had in the end seemed mollified by agreement from Senate Democrats to include "side amendment" language assuring that the pre-amble of this controversial treaty would not inhibit the right of the U.S. to develop and field a "missile shield" defense system that could protect the United States from surprise attacks from terrorists or rogue political states like North Korea and Iran, (which the West has tried impotently for years to sanction into compliance with international norms and proliferation agreements very similar to the treaty ratified by the Senate today).

Some holdouts continued to insist that language in any such side amendment was not effective and that the treaty failed to address critical issues such as the inequality in Russian tactical (battlefield) nukes versus American, but in the end the Senate chose to ratify the treaty anyway after an intense lobbying effort from Administration members including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joseph Biden, (both previous U.S. Senators with many friendships and links to the historic chamber of quaint procedural rules and niceties). 

While it remains to be seen if such side agreements between Senators can, in the words of former U.N. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton and sticking with the grade school analogy in my previous post, have any more effect than a "letter from my mother" upon treaties the legislators are not even parties to, (as in spite of its importance in our Constitutional scheme the U.S. Senate is not after all technically a legal party to a treaty between the sovereign states of Russian and America), there is no doubt that this vote is a humongous victory for an Administration that some had already written off as a "one term presidency."

Indeed, the passage of the Start treaty caps a week of astounding successes for the Obama Administration after a fitful first two years, including elimination of the Clinton era "Don't ask Don't tell" compromise that allowed gay service men and woman to serve in the military as long as they did not openly trumpet their sexual orientation, a "stimulus two" economic compromise that retains the Bush Tax cuts for two years as well as cuts social security payroll taxes, extends unemployment benefits and reinstitutes the death tax, (albeit at a lower rate than it was scheduled to come back at next year), and a 4.3 billion dollar bill to provide health care for first responders who claimed long-term injuries in the aftermath of the Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the world trade towers in the heart of Manhattan. 

Though only time will tell the lasting impact of such policies-- which as a separate matter this blog will undoubtedly devote considerable time to examining in the days and weeks ahead-- in hindsight it may very well be that, taking a page from former Predident Bill Clinton's play book after the 1994 elections, the recent mid-term victories by Republicans may end up being a better Christmas gift to the Administration than it could have chosen for itself if it results in Obama moving to a more centrist and pragmatic position of compromise with Republicans that results in passage of more popular legislation in the future that could lift his poll numbers and propel him to a second term.  For that we shall just have to see.  jp

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