The Real Reason Why Republicans Don’t Want the “New Start” Treaty

Has the President’s olive branch on extending the Bush tax breaks for the rich opened a new era in bi-partisanship? Not a chance.

Anyone who isn’t worried about loose nukes – nuclear warheads that can travel long distances, and could find their way into terrorist hands – should have his head examined. Russia and the U.S. still have thousands from the Cold War days. The old Start treaty began the job of reducing that number, with mutual inspections to verify both sides were following through. But it lapsed last year. So right now there’s nothing – not only no treaty to continue the process of de-nuking, but no inspection system to make sure Russia isn’t (and to assure Russia that the U.S. isn’t) re-nuking.

Fortunately, Russia and the U.S. have negotiated a New Start treaty that would cut the number of warheads down to about a third, and resume inspections.

But Senate Republicans are balking.

Let’s be clear: The choice isn’t between adopting a New Start treaty or just keeping the old one. The old one ran out a year ago. The choice is a New Start treaty or back to the old days when both sides could build more nukes under a cloud of secrecy.

It’s a no-brainer. But many Republicans, led by Mitch McConnell and Jon Kyl, now say they won’t support New Start.

Why? Six months ago their excuse was the U.S. wasn’t doing enough to make sure our remaining stock of nuclear warheads would be up to par. Now that $84 billion has been allotted to upgrading our nuclear weapons, they can’t make that argument. A month ago they said they didn’t have enough time to consider the treaty. When it was pointed out to them there had been dozens of hearings and briefings, they said they needed more time to think about the inspections built into the treaty. Now they say they don’t like the language in the treaty’s preamble.

Here are the real reasons:

1. Deny Obama a victory. Mitch McConnell has said his number one priority is making sure Barack Obama is a one-term President. He’ll sacrifice the security of Americans in order to rob the President of anything that could be interpreted as a victory, including New Start.

Forget bi-partisanship. To Senate Republicans, it never existed and never will. They went along with the tax deal because it gave them and their supporters everything they wanted and more. They didn’t consider it a victory for Obama; they’re claiming it as a victory for themselves.

2. Stoke up defense spending. I don’t even think Senate Republican leaders mind loose nukes. Failure of New Start would give them an excuse to increase defense spending – the one area of the budget they want enlarged.

Remember: We’re back to Reaganomics. Cut the taxes on the rich, cut government programs for the middle class and poor, and spend lots more on defense.

3. Generate more fear of what’s “out there.” Republicans trade in fear. They’ve mastered the art of turning fear of what’s “out there” into Republican political gains – whether it’s fear of terrorists, immigrants, Russia, China, or communists who may still be lurking somewhere in the shadows. They’re looking to 2012 and stoking up the fear.

Today is the showdown on New Start. Senate Dems will move to cut off debate (they’ll need 60 votes). Final ratification will require two-thirds of the senators present.

We’ll soon discover whether President Obama bought anything with his cave-in to Republicans on tax cuts for the rich.

The real reason for fear isn’t what’s kurking “out there.” It’s what’s lurking on Capitol Hill.

About Robert Reich 545 Articles

Robert Reich is the nation's 22nd Secretary of Labor and a professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

He has served as labor secretary in the Clinton administration, as an assistant to the solicitor general in the Ford administration and as head of the Federal Trade Commission's policy planning staff during the Carter administration.

He has written eleven books, including The Work of Nations, which has been translated into 22 languages; the best-sellers The Future of Success and Locked in the Cabinet, and his most recent book, Supercapitalism. His articles have appeared in the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. Mr. Reich is co-founding editor of The American Prospect magazine. His weekly commentaries on public radio’s "Marketplace" are heard by nearly five million people.

In 2003, Mr. Reich was awarded the prestigious Vaclev Havel Foundation Prize, by the former Czech president, for his pioneering work in economic and social thought. In 2005, his play, Public Exposure, broke box office records at its world premiere on Cape Cod.

Mr. Reich has been a member of the faculties of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and of Brandeis University. He received his B.A. from Dartmouth College, his M.A. from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and his J.D. from Yale Law School.

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