Cliff May

You don't need to be in the Tea Party to believe that members of Congress ought to read and understand bills before signing them into law. I think it's fair to say that in this month's elections voters rejected the alternative approach, best articulated by soon-to-be-former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in regard to legislation designed to transform American health care: "(W)e have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it ..."

Now under consideration by the U.S. Senate is New START -- a consequential strategic nuclear arms-limitation treaty with Russia. The Kremlin interprets it as restricting America's ability to deploy missile defenses. Administration spokesmen say that's not correct. To resolve this confusion, some senators have asked to review the negotiating record -- the paper trail left by those who participated in the talks. The administration has been unwilling to provide those documents, in effect asking members of the Senate to embrace the Pelosi approach: Vote for the treaty first, figure out what it means later.

During his Asia tour last week, President Barack Obama said that ratification of New START is his top foreign policy priority and that he wants to get it done in the lame-duck session of Congress. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates this week had an op-ed in the Washington Post headlined: "We Can't Delay This Treaty."

On the one hand, sitting senators are paid to cast votes, not kick cans down the road. On the other hand, again, you probably don't have to be a Tea Party member to think that for departing senators to ratify this treaty would be like fired executives deciding on a corporate merger just before turning in their keys to the bathroom. A treaty establishes international law and commits a nation to a solemn obligation. (At least it does for the U.S.; for some other nations, not so much.)

It would be appropriate for senators-elect of both parties to send a letter to the White House and the Senate expressing their preferences. Let me nominate Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, Mark Kirk, a Republican from Illinois, and Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia to lead that effort.

Members of the House of Representatives don't vote on treaties. Nevertheless, those congressmen most concerned with national security -- for example, Armed Services Committee members Buck McKeon, Trent Franks and Mike Turner -- also might consider sharing their views on the relevance of the negotiating record and the benefits of putting off final deliberations.


Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.