By Lindsay Aylesworth
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted on sending the Law of the Sea Treaty to the Senate floor.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted on the Law of the Sea Treaty this morning (October 31, 2007), in an attempt to bring the long awaited Convention for a full vote on the Senate floor. Thirteen years after the United States helped re-write critical aspects of the treaty to its favor, it is still awaiting ratification from the Senate. The Law of the Sea Treaty passed by majority vote of 17-4, with several Senators opposing the treaty; the last vote on the treaty in 2004, passed by a unanimous 19-0 support in favor of bringing the treaty to the floor. Even though at that time there was complete support in the committee to bring the treaty to a vote, it failed to make it onto the Senate floor.
The important question after the vote today is if Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid (D-NV) will send the Law of the Sea Treaty for a full vote on the Senate floor. The treaty needs 66 votes for ratification as well as to prevent a filibuster. Senator Inhofe (R-Ok) who is not a member of the Committee, has indicated that if the treaty goes to the floor he is prepared to filibuster to delay or prevent a vote on its passage. This can be avoided if there is supermajority support for the Law of the Sea Convention. Based on the vote in Committee, 17-4, there are some senators that are hesitant to support the treaty. This reflection in committee can be extrapolated to what might happen on the senate floor. Senator Reid will not send the treaty to the floor if it is not expected to receive the 66 votes necessary for ratification.
Of the senators that voted no, Senator Coleman (R-MN) was the only surprising addition. He changed his vote relative to 2004 most likely due to pressures associated with his upcoming re-election. He made several brief remarks about his concerns with the dispute resolution mechanism of the treaty and with the International Seabed Authority. Senator Vitter (R-LA), also another no vote, requested another hearing and tried to push for a vote to delay but withdrew the motion due to lack of support. Of those that voted yes- Senator Corker (R-TN) made a statement reflecting that he is still not sure about the treaty, but his “first instinct” is that accession will be good for the US and he wants it to be considered by the full Senate.