Republican opponents of a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia can do little to stop what appears to be a growing momentum to ratify the agreement in coming days.
With one senator, Ron Wyden, D-Ore., out of commission due to cancer surgery, 66 lawmakers, rather than the usual 67, are needed to ratify the treaty under the required two-thirds rule for passage, and it appears there is now enough support among GOP Senators to reach that threshold.
Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Robert Bennett, R-Utah, both said Tuesday they will back ratification of the treaty, adding their names to a growing list of Republican supporters that essentially ensures the agreement will pass. Nine Republicans are needed to reach the 66 required for ratification.
"I'm convinced that Americans are safer and more secure with the new START treaty than without," Alexander said in a Senate floor speech Tuesday.
The treaty would halve the number of nuclear missile launchers in both countries while increasing inspections and verification programs. The agreement is a follow-up to the START II treaty ratified in 2002.
A group of Republicans who oppose the treaty remain intent on stopping ratification during the waning days of the lame duck session. The group, which includes Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., want lawmakers to consider the agreement when the new Congress convenes in January. They say the current treaty leaves the United States vulnerable to losing its critical missile defense system and it does nothing to address the threat of tactical weapons.
The Senate is poised to vote to end debate on the treaty Tuesday. The ratification vote will follow in coming days.