Senate ratifies START, passes 9/11 responders bill

The U.S. Senate ratified the START arms control treaty today by a 71 to 26 vote. Thirteen Republicans joined all 58 members of the Democratic caucus to ratify the treaty, which needed support from two-thirds of the senators present to pass. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley voted no, as did Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and most of the Republican caucus. According to Major Garrett, no Senate minority leader has ever before opposed a major treaty that the chamber ratified.

Grassley said he voted against ratifying START “because it makes the United States give up more than Russia, it’s silent on the major issue of tactical nuclear weapons, and the verification mechanism is weaker than START I, which I supported in 1992.” I’ve posted his full statement on the treaty after the jump. Every former secretary of state alive, plus various Reagan administration officials, agreed that approving the treaty is in U.S. security interests. Tom Harkin’s statement, which is also posted below, hailed the treaty’s ratification, adding, “The fact that it was subjected to months of obstruction and delay underlines the dysfunction that has taken hold in the U.S. Senate.”

Also today, senators passed by unanimous consent a bill on health care for 9/11 responders. Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, backed by his GOP colleagues, had been holding up that bill for some time. Senators from both parties worked out a compromise on the bill, reducing its cost and sunsetting the Victims Compensation Fund, among other things. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House will approve this bill later today, before Congress adjourns for Christmas.

Earlier today, President Barack Obama signed the bill that will lead to repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. However, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network cautioned, “‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ will still be the law until 60 days after the Commander-in-Chief, Secretary of Defense, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs certify repeal can happen.” The SLDN’s full warning to service members is here. Bottom line: “Do NOT come out. At this time, lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members can still be investigated and discharged under DADT.”

Chris Geidner analyzed the Senate numbers on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and found that just two current senators (Russ Feingold and Barbara Boxer) voted “against DADT at every stage in its history.” Grassley was one of five current senators who voted to keep Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell on December 18 and also voted for the 1993 defense authorization bill enacting the policy. Tom Harkin was among 18 current members of the Democratic caucus who voted to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell despite having voted for the 1993 defense authorization. Caveat: Harkin and most of that group had previously voted for a Boxer amendment to strip Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell from that 1993 bill.

In other Congressional news, momentum is building for some kind of filibuster reform when the new Senate convenes in January, but it sounds as if the changes will not reduce the number of senators needed to overcome a filibuster (60).

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