The day we have all been waiting for has finally arrived – New START is heading to the Senate floor! Unfortunately there’s not likely to be much debate today, as Sen. DeMint has promised to force a reading of all 356 pages of the treaty and its supporting documents, which apparently will take 15 7-12 hours! Gotta love the GOP: Many Republican Senators have been harping for weeks that there is not enough time to consider the treaty before the end of the year, and now when the treaty actually hits the floor, these same Senators plan to deliberately waste time by forcing a reading of a treaty that’s been available for review for nearly 8 months!
Stay tuned to this space for updates, commentary, and musings on all things New START.
UPDATE 12/15, 2:45 PM: It looks like Sen. DeMint has backed off his threat to force the reading of the text of the treaty. The procedural motion to proceed to executive session passed by a vote of 66-32, which included the support of nine Republicans. Debate will commence tomorrow!
- The Senate does not actually ratify treaties—that is the job of the President:
- The Senate provides advice (on the substance) and consent (with two-thirds of the Senate required to approve a treaty)
- The Senate considers on the Senate floor the text of the treaty and the resolution of ratification
- To ratify a treaty, the President signs and deposits the instrument of ratification along with the other parties to the treaty at an agreed upon location.
- The resolution of ratification of a treaty can be as short as a paragraph or many pages long. The resolution of ratification for the 2002 Treaty of Moscow was longer than the treaty itself (three and one-half pages).
- The President submits a treaty to the Senate along with its associated protocols and annexes, as well as an article-by-article analysis of the treaty. The protocols and annexes provide details of verification procedures, for example. The New START agreement is approximately 20 pages, but the associated documents are over 300 pages.
- Letters exchanged between the negotiators are often included in the package delivered to the Senate but are not binding, can be in the form of a unilateral statement or can be responded to by the other party either in agreement or disagreement.
- The treaty is first considered in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which has sole jurisdiction over the crafting of the resolution of ratification.
- Other committees such as the Senate Armed Services and Senate Intelligence committees will often hold hearings as well and may express views to the Foreign Relations Committee but do not consider the resolution of ratification.
- Once a treaty is reported from the Foreign Relations Committee
and placed on the Senate’s Executive Calendar, it must lie over for
1 calendar day before second reading and Senate consideration, unless the Senate agrees by unanimous consent to waive this requirement. The Senate can then be called to enter executive session to consider the treaty at any time by a nondebatable motion. Unlike a bill the motion to proceed to a treaty cannot be filibustered, but it may be the subject of a roll call vote.
- When the Senate begins considering a treaty under the current
Rule XXX procedure, the treaty is to be read for a second time.
This reading is to be in full and it can be waived only by unanimous
consent. This requirement is almost always waived.
- The text of the treaty itself then is open to amendment. In a very recent ruling, the Senate parliamentarian ruled that the non-binding preamble of a treaty can also be amended.
- The Senate has never added an amendment to the text of an arms control treaty because the amendment would have to be approved by the other party(ies) to the treaty. Any amendment to the text of the treaty requires 51 votes, not a two-thirds vote, to be adopted (which means that a simple majority of the Senate can defeat any of the amendments).
- After debate on the treaty itself, the next step is for the Senate to consider this resolution. The Senate is not to begin considering the resolution of ratification on the same day it completes debate on the treaty itself and disposes of any amendments to it, unless the Senate by unanimous consent determines otherwise.
- The resolution of ratification can be changed on the Senate floor through conditions, reservations, understandings and declarations. A simple majority vote, not a two-thirds vote, is required to approve any of these additions (which means that a simple majority of the Senate can defeat any of the additions).
- Once the Senate has begun consideration of the treaty, cloture can be filed at any time. Two days must pass for that cloture vote to occur. If cloture is successful then there is a 30 hour limits on debate on both the treaty and the resolution of ratification. At the end of the 30 hours there is a vote on any pending amendment(s) to the resolution of ratification and then immediately on passage of the resolution which will need the two thirds vote.
- Cloture is not often invoked on treaties because they are usually considered according to a prior unanimous consent time agreement reached between the Majority and Minority.
- In the Senate, the process (of treaty ratification) is often more important than the substance of treaties
- Timing of Senate action on treaties has varied greatly:
- The 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty was ratified within a matter of six weeks
- The 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty took four months
- The 2002 Moscow Treaty took nine months
- START I took over a year because of the collapse of the Soviet Union
- New START could be ratified within 5-6 months after it is negotiated if opponents do not try to hold up treaty approval
- Previous arms control treaties have been debated on the floor for a short period of time. The 1991 START I treaty required four days of debate, while START II, the Chemical Weapons Convention, and the 2002 Moscow Treaty each took two days. The INF treaty was on the Senate floor for 9 days.
- If a treaty is rejected on the floor – as was the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1999 – it can be sent back to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (where it will remain on the Senate calendar).
*For more information, see “TREATIES AND OTHER INTERNATIONAL AGREEMENTS: THE ROLE OF THE UNITED STATES SENATE.” A Study Prepared by the Congressional Research Service, January 2001.