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Senate Republicans Must Not Use National Security as a Bargaining Chit

It would be unbelievable, if it were not so common place. After an election in which millions of Americans went to the polls to demand that laws be considered and passed on the basis of principle, Senate Republicans are already reverting to their log-roll ways to help President Obama pass in a lame duck session an arms treaty–New START–that makes the U.S. weaker and Russia stronger.

According to press reports, Senate Republicans are willing to sacrifice their votes on New Start (and another costly extension of unemployment benefits) to secure a deal on a SHORT TERM extension of the current tax rates that they were already going to get if they played out there hand.

Here is the bottom line: Republicans are trading national security for tax cuts. And we wonder why the Republican brand still stinks.

Look at Senate Republicans’ widely-reported-upon letter, which states that if a tax deal is agreed upon, other issues can be worked on:

For that reason, we write to inform you that we will not agree to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to any legislative item until the Senate has acted to fund the government and we have prevented the tax increase that is currently awaiting all American taxpayers. With little time left in this Congressional session, legislative scheduling should be focused on these critical priorities. While there are other items that might ultimately be worthy of the Senate’s attention, we cannot agree to prioritize any matters above the critical issues of funding the government and preventing a job-killing tax hike.

Here is the thing. Republicans could have the tax rate extension regardless. Democrats are in an untenable political situation if they don’t extend the current rates. If they allow taxes to skyrocket on January 1, it’s their fault, and Republicans will have an opportunity to permanently extend them in a new Congress, with the help of many Democrat Senators newly in cycle who don’t want to be seen as tax hikers. There is a reason Barak Obama felt the need to negotiate with Republicans down at the White House yesterday.

Unfortunately, Senator Jon Kyl has been signaling for months that many Senate Republicans would trade their votes on New START to secure additional nuclear modernization funding. According to Senator McConnell in August, “All [the Obama Administration has] to do is find enough money to satisfy Senator Kyl that they are prepared to do what they said they would do…In my view they need to do that, because without that I think the chances of ratification are pretty slim.” Kyl’s strategy has always been to force Democrats to spend more money in exchange for something they badly want. Given that Democrats always want to spend money, this was never a particularly heavy lift.

Now after Republicans won big in the mid-term election and increased their negotiating leverage with six new Republicans, the strategy has changed–but in the wrong direction. Instead of forcing the Obama Administration back to the negotiating table with the Russians, Senate Republicans are content to barter it away in exchange for a short-term increase of current tax rates.

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