“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Can a House Defeat on the B61 Life Extension Program Lead to
Ultimate Victory: As Sarah Palin would say, You Betcha!
On July 10, 2013, U.S. Representatives Michael Quigley (D-IL) and Jared Polis (D-CO) called for a vote on their amendment on the House floor to eliminate a funding increase for the B61 Life Extension Program.
While the amendment failed 196-227, it marks a significant milestone in the campaign to reduce the nuclear weapons budget and complex. The landmark vote comes on the heels of a major reduction in funding for the B61 by the Senate Appropriations Committee earlier this year and is likely to be followed by additional progress in the months and years ahead.
The Fiscal Year 2014 budget request included $537 million for the B61 life extension program, a massive 45% increase over the FY 2013 appropriation. The House Appropriations Committee added $23.7 million above the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) request.
In many ways, the B61 program is the poster child for out-of-control nuclear and military weapons projects. The program has ballooned in cost from $4 billion two years ago to over $10 billion, while the schedule for the work has slipped four years.
As California Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the chair of the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee said last year :
“I would like to highlight management issues that raise serious concerns about NNSA’s ability to contain costs and effectively spend taxpayer dollars at the request level, let alone at higher levels. NNSA’s projects are over budget.”
Key Republicans agree. Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander added earlier this year:
“I’ve pretty well had it with these big Energy Department projects that start out costing a billion dollars and end up costing $6 billion. We can’t afford that. And we can use the money much more wisely, either to reduce the debt or to pay for energy research.”
But advocacy and education has to be followed by hard votes in Congress to turn words into action. And leaders need to step up to take charge of the campaign.
In the Senate, it is Feinstein and Alexander whose Energy and Water subcommittee cut $168 million below the Administration request for the program. The Committee expressed concern “that NNSA’s proposed scope of work for extending the life of the B61 bomb is not the lowest cost, lowest risk option that meets military requirements and replaces aging components before they affect weapon performance.”
In the House, Representative Quigley, a Member since 2009 representing Illinois 5th District, which includes areas in and around Chicago, took on the B61 issue. He worked to build support, solicited Representative Polis as co-sponsor, worked hard to find a Republican co-sponsor and educated his colleagues on the issue.
He was supported by a coalition of advocacy organizations and other arms control and peace organizations coordinated by the Ploughshares Fund. These groups developed the case for cutting funding for the B61, helped shape the amendment, put together fact sheets and drafted Dear Colleagues, sent out action alerts to encourage citizen pressure on House members, worked with the media and contacted Hill offices directly.
The vote was the first ever directly on the B61 program. Other votes to cut back the nuclear weapons budget had failed by much larger margins. Last year, for example, a Markey (D-MA) amendment to cut land-based missiles went down 283-136.
Today’s vote was much closer – and bodes well for eventual victory.
There are many examples in legislative history of amendments that failed initially or lost respectably that helped lead to future success. The McGovern (D-SD)-Hatfield (R-OR) Senate amendment in 1970 that would have forced the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam lost 55-39, but helped to persuade President Richard Nixon that American support for that war had withered. Soon after, the troops started exiting under the guise of “Vietnamization.”
In July 1982, a Mavroules (D-MA) amendment to eliminate all funds for the MX missile lost 212-209, but led to a successful vote five months later to eliminate all procurement funds for the missile, and helped produce an eventual compromise to build 50 missiles rather than the 200 proposed by the Reagan Administration.
Unsuccessful amendments in the late 1980’s to stop nuclear weapons testing led to a successful initiative from Congress in 1992 to halt all U.S. nuclear testing, a moratorium that has continued [or “continues up”] to today.
There are many signs that the Quigley-Polis amendment similarly augers positive results.
Today’s House vote makes it much more likely that the Senate’s lower figure will be ultimately adopted. And these actions might well mark the beginning of the end for the misbegotten B61 program.