Originally published in The Dayton Daily News on March 29, 2011 by Martin Gottlieb.
Martin Gottlieb: Turner in middle of right vs. hard-right fight; or not
The national media have been talking about conflicts between the hard-charging new super conservatives in Washington â€” symbolized by Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana â€” and the regular old conservatives, symbolized by Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester.
Their districts, the 8th and 4th, meet north of Dayton on the lines, among other places, between Miami County and Shelby County, to its north.
Rep. Mike Turner, another neighbor of Boehner and near-neighbor of Jordan, has found himself in middle of one of these fights.
Turner says itâ€™s really a misunderstanding. Others arenâ€™t treating it as that.
Turner chairs the House subcommittee on strategic forces, meaning, for our purposes, the big nuclear weapons and their delivery vehicles.
The story sort of starts with events last December and November.
First, December: Congress was in a lame-duck session, trying to get a lot done fast. The Obama administration was fighting an uphill battle to win ratification of an arms treaty with Russia. The treaty was opposed by the Senate Republican leadership and specifically by Sen. John Kyl, of Arizona, top Republican on the relevant committee. Ohio Sen. George Voinovich was on the fence.
The treaty would resume nuclear inspections that were part of the scene before another treaty lapsed in 2009. And it would continue to cut the number of deployed nuclear weapons.
Sen. Kyl said that before he approved it, he wanted the Obama administration to agree to spend a great deal more money securing the U.S. nuclear arsenal. When nuclear weapons get old, major security problems arise. And the weapons can become unreliable.
The connection of that problem to the treaty was hard to see. Never mind. People in both parties agreed that security had been allowed to lapse. The president promised to spend $85 billion over a decade on the Kyl agenda.
That wasnâ€™t enough to get Kyl on board. But ultimately a lot of Republicans, including Voinovich, did decide to take â€œyesâ€� for an answer. The treaty got the two-thirds support it needed.
Now, November: The 2010 election brought an energized conservative majority to the House of Representatives.
When the new Congress convened, that Republican majority seemed to turn against the agreement Senate Republicans had won. The House passed a budget bill eliminating an increase for 2011 for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).
Thatâ€™s a part of the Energy Department that is responsible for the security, safety and reliability of the nuclear stockpile; it also works to secure foreign stockpiles, with an eye on preventing the seepage of nuclear weapons to new countries.
The House Republicans cut more than $900 million from the $11.2 billion requested by the Obama administration. That included a 20-percent cut in the effort to prevent the spread of nukes.
This has caused Turner and every member of his subcommittee to write to Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the Budget Committee. They say, among other things, that the cuts in the NNSA budget will require increases in the next budget; that the Obama budget represents its agreement with Congress; and that increases are needed to reverse â€œthe pattern of underinvestment.â€�
In a phone interview Tuesday, Turner said, â€œThis is not discretionary spending. The bill simply comes due.â€�
Meanwhile, in a sign of how the political game is increasingly played these days, a group called the Council for a Livable World is denouncing the cuts in what it calls a â€œsubstantialâ€� campaign of radio ads in the home territory of Rep. Ryan and five other Republican leaders, including Speaker Boehner.
An ad says, speaking of unsecured foreign stockpiles, â€œSpeaker John Boehner is making it easier for terrorists to get nuclear weapons.â€�
The organizationâ€™s website says the ads are to be placed on â€œright-wing talk shows.â€�
Turner says the House cuts result from the fact that the budget bill was massively complex. He says the plan of conservatives not to cut defense spending got ignored, because the programs in question are actually in the Energy Department, not the Pentagon.
Itâ€™s presumably true that a lot of the new people in Congress never knew that the nuclear weapons scientists work for the Energy Department. But all the veteran legislators knew â€” certainly Budget Committee Chairman Ryan.
Maybe Turner wants to help them back off. Itâ€™s hard to say, however, which way they look worse: they did know what they were doing, or they didnâ€™t.