This was a vote on an amendment by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) that would have required President Obama to sell 66 F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan. This amendment was offered to legislation that would extend a non-controversial trade program known as the “General System of Preferences” through 2013.
Cornyn urged support for his amendment: “What kind of message does the Senate send by denying our ally Taiwan the purchase of military exports that they need and that they requested? And what message can the U.S. Senate send to reassure our allies in Taiwan as well as people watching everywhere around the world with our credibility on the line?
I want to reiterate that this is a bipartisan matter. This is not a partisan issue at all. Republicans and Democrats alike have supported the Mutual Defense Treaty signed by President Eisenhower in 1954, and the Taiwan Relations Act was supported with bipartisan support and signed by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, and it remains the law of the land. That states specifically that the United States will provide to Taiwan the defense articles necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain sufficient self-defense capabilities in furtherance of maintaining peace and stability in the Western Pacific region.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) opposed Cornyn’s amendment: “Yesterday, the administration announced details of a $5.8 billion arms package to Taiwan….It will significantly improve Taiwan's self-defense capabilities without increasing cross-strait tensions. As we all know, Taiwan has asked the administration to accept a letter of request to sell 66 of the newer F-16 C/Ds. Those who support the sale of new F-16s to Taiwan were clearly disappointed by the decision to move forward with only upgrades to Taiwan's existing fleet. Senator Cornyn described the decision as a `capitulation to Communist China' and a `slap in the face to strong ally and longtime friend.' Nothing could be further from the truth. First, let's be clear: The administration has deferred the decision on the sale of new F-16s to Taiwan, it has not rejected it outright….Let me remind my colleagues that under the Obama administration, total arms sales to Taiwan have totaled $12.25 billion, more than double the amount sold during President George W. Bush's first term. It is clear these attacks are more about politics than the security and self-defense capability of Taiwan….Military escalation between Taiwan and China, which the sale of the F-16 C/D variant would be construed as, is not in the best interests of the United States.”
[The General System of Preferences program allows developing nations to ship raw materials to the U.S. without paying duties on those products. Senate Democrats had brought up the non-controversial General System of Preferences bill with the intention of amending it in order to extend trade adjustment assistance programs through fiscal year 2016.]
The vote on Cornyn’s amendment was 48-48. Under a unanimous consent agreement (literally, an agreement reached among all senators), amendments to the underlying trade bill required 60 votes for passage. Since this amendment did not receive 60 votes, the measure failed. As a result, the Senate rejected an amendment that would have required President Obama to sell 66 F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan.