New START inches forward

NEW START INCHES FORWARD…. Eight months after the nuclear arms treaty known as New START came together, the Senate finally began a floor debate this afternoon. The first hurdle, the motion to proceed, was cleared this afternoon, but the margin wasn’t exactly overwhelming.

The Senate has moved ahead on a U.S.-Russia nuclear arms treaty, President Barack Obama’s top foreign policy priority.

Democrats prevailed in a test vote, 66-32, winning the backing of eight Republicans to begin debate on the treaty.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) had said he’d force the clerk to read the entire treaty, wasting up to 12 hours for no reason, but this afternoon, that plan was scrapped.

With that out of the way, how is the vote shaping up? Looking at the roll call from today, eight nine Republicans — Bennett (Utah), Brown (Mass.), Collins (Maine), Graham (R-S.C.), Lugar (R-Ind.), McCain (Ariz.), Murkowski (R-Alaska), Snowe (Maine), and Voinovich (Ohio) — broke ranks and sided with the Democratic majority to move the process forward.

That’s the good news. The bad news is 66 votes probably won’t be enough.

To ratify, the Senate will need a two-thirds majority, which means 67 votes. However, Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), who hasn’t raised any concerns about the treaty thus far, did not vote today for reasons I don’t know. If Bayh is there for the final vote, and sides with the bipartisan majority, New START is a done deal.

For that matter, both Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) voted for the treaty in committee, so presumably they approve of it on a substantive level. They balked on the motion to proceed, but when it comes to a final vote, if either one of them supports ratification, that will give proponents 67 votes.

The Democratic leadership appears optimistic. Stay tuned.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.