Originally published in Politico , Council Executive Director John Isaacs was quoted on big budget cuts in the House Bill
Budget Battle Over Funding for Nuclear Weapons
Senate Republicans who fought hard to secure commitments for future nuclear modernization funding now find themselves at odds with House Republicans looking to cut spending.
Near the end of the last Congress in December, many Senate Republicans dug in against the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia, holding out on a number of issues, including a promise from the administration to spend more than $80 billion over the next 10 years to modernize the nationâ€™s nuclear weapons program. They succeeded in landing an $84 billion commitment.
Now, Republicans in the House, eager to trim the skyrocketing federal deficit, propose to scale back funding for the National Nuclear Security Administrationâ€™s modernization accounts in the continuing spending resolution being debated in the House. And arms-control advocates are drubbing Republicans for being soft on terrorism because the spending bill proposes a 22 percent cut in programs that aim to keep nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists.
With Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who championed the fight for additional money to maintain the nationâ€™s nuclear labs, retiring at the end of his term in 2013, thereâ€™s some hand-wringing about whether a dip in funding could compromise the security of the nuclear arsenal and about what will become of funding for the nuclear accounts down the road.
President Barack Obama had asked for $7 billion this fiscal year for the stockpile stewardship program that shores up aging nuclear weapons, and the continuing resolution had provided an exception to continue funding the program at the level of the presidentâ€™s request. But House members, looking for savings, cut the exception in half, leaving the administration $300 million short of the presidentâ€™s request. In fiscal 2012, the president is asking for even more money: $7.6 billion.
â€œIâ€™m very disappointed that weâ€™re not, in this CR, fully funding the presidentâ€™s request for our nuclear complex,â€� said Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), chairman of the Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over nuclear weapons. â€œSen. Kyl went to the floor of the Senate and fought vehemently that he wanted the administration to ante up. ... I donâ€™t think he did that so we in the House could whack that.â€�
The additional money isnâ€™t going to buy new, gee-whiz equipment, Turner said, but, rather, â€œthis is filling in the gap of where there has been disinvestment to ensure that we can maintain our capabilities.â€� Often, he said, funding for nuclear modernization has gotten lost in the larger debate over massive defense funding.
Kyl isnâ€™t the only lawmaker in Congress who will take up the mantle, Turner said, vowing to â€œcontinue to fight for it.â€�
But the red-hot debate over the burgeoning federal deficit thatâ€™s pushing House Republicans already is spilling over to the Senate, as well.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who worked with Kyl to secure the nuclear modernization funding, became a convert after visiting national laboratories across the country. But in a state as Republican as Tennessee, Corker is trying to show his tough-on-spending credentials.
So heâ€™s introduced legislation to trim the deficit over 10 years â€” something called the Commitment to American Prosperity Act â€” that he says would allow a cap on government spending and still beef up nuclear modernization programs. â€œWe need to pass spending cuts this year and pass the CAP Act,â€� he said.
â€œSen. [Claire] McCaskill and I have offered to force Congress to dramatically cut spending over 10 years, and I believe this is possible while maintaining our commitment to keep the American people safe and secure,â€� Corker said, referring to the Missouri Democrat. â€œI will continue working with Sen. Kyl and others to ensure we properly maintain our aging nuclear arsenal.â€�
John Isaacs, president of the Council for a Livable World, who tracks nuclear modernization and proliferation programs from an arms-control perspective, raised a cautionary note.
Adding the $300 million for NNSA funding this fiscal year or adding back $602 million for nuclear nonproliferation programs that also were cut in the continuing resolution stands a better chance when the CR comes to the Senate in March than it does this week in the House, Isaacs said. But in the long term, the prospects arenâ€™t great.
On national security, he said, Republicans worked to shield many defense and security programs from budget cuts â€” but not the nuclear nonproliferation program.
And that, he said, is â€œa grave error and dangerous for American security.â€�
Over the next two years, Isaacs doesnâ€™t see much changing, either.
â€œItâ€™s hard to be too optimistic, given the leadership in the House,â€� he said. â€œThose in our community are going to be on the defensive, trying to fend off bad bills in the House and, depending on the Senate and the veto pen by the president, to beat back the worst of their provisions.â€�