Appropriators Ax Bush’s $88.8 Billion Request for RRWBy WILLIAM MATTHEWS
Exercising “power of the purse,” the U.S. House committee that controls spending voted not to fund any efforts in 2008 to develop a new nuclear warhead.
The House Appropriations Committee cut all of the $88.8 billion President George W. Bush requested for building a Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW).
In a vote June 6, the committee also cut $25 million sought to begin work on a new nuclear weapon production complex — Complex 2030 — which is expected to cost at least $150 billion over the next two decades.
The appropriators withheld funding from the two programs, declaring them, “poorly thought out,” and “premature.” Before building new warheads and a new nuclear weapon complex, the administration must develop a post-Cold War strategic weapon plan, said Rep. Peter Visclosky, D-Ind.
Visclosky is chairman of the Appropriations energy and water subcommittee, which oversees U.S. nuclear weapon programs.
The Appropriations cut follows a less drastic cut by the House Armed Services Committee, which lopped $20 million off the RRW program in May. The Senate Armed Services Committee also cut RRW funding.
In all, the Appropriations Committee cut $632 million — nearly 10 percent — from Bush’s nuclear weapon budget request of $6.5 billion for 2008.
The money cut from nuclear weapon programs, which are managed by the Energy Department, was distributed to a variety of other energy programs, including programs to reduce dependence on foreign oil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The shift prompted Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., to call for nuclear weapon labs in his state to be allowed to branch out into other energy research. Work on energy efficiency and renewable forms of energy “is a direction the nation needs to move in,” he said.
Los Alamos National Laboratory, which manages the nation’s nuclear weapon stockpile, is the largest employer in Udall’s congressional district. A second national nuclear lab, Sandia, is in southern New Mexico.
Udall predicted the committee’s cuts would lead to job losses. The labs should be allowed to compete for government-funded energy research, he said. “They’re not just weapon labs” and should be permitted to diversify. “I want to make sure the scientists can stay employed,” he said.
However, Rep. David Hobson, R-Ohio, said for the nuclear labs to become energy science labs would require substantial reorganization.
Committee members made it clear they are unhappy with the Bush administration’s determination to move ahead with the RRW and Complex 2030.
In a strongly-worded rebuke, the committee wrote that “these multibillion dollar initiatives are being proposed in a policy vacuum without any administration statement on the national security environment that the future nuclear deterrent is designed to address.”
“Currently, there exists no convincing rationale for maintaining the large number of existing Cold War nuclear weapons, much less producing additional warheads.”
The committee directed the Energy Department, Pentagon and intelligence community to write “a comprehensive nuclear security plan.”
The plan is to cover future weapon requirements, production of new weapons and dismantlement plans for old ones. It is also to include estimates of the global threat, an unclassified summary of the current stockpile quantity, year-by-year changes planned for the size of the stockpile, and analysis comparing the cost of existing facilities and the current stockpile with the cost of a new weapon complex.
Committee members accused the Energy Department of seeking new weapons chiefly to bolster its budget. In a bill report the committee wrote: “The committee notes that maintaining the legacy stockpile was acceptable to the Defense Department and the Energy Department while large funding allocations were flowing for the Science-Based Stockpile Stewardship facilities and programs.
“Now that the Stockpile Stewardship facilities are nearing completion and the funding curve is flattening out, NNSA (the National Nuclear Security Administration within the Energy Department) is raising concerns with the reliability of the existing stockpile and wants Congress to embark on a new multibillion, multidecade initiative that will ensure an expanding funding curve.”
It is also “particularly troubling,” the committee wrote, that the RRW puts the United States in the position of demanding other nations give up their nuclear ambitions while Washington attempts to build new nuclear warheads.
Amid the cutting, the committee approved a whopping increase for nonproliferation efforts.
Members added $11 million to the president’s request for $1.7 billion. On top of that, nonproliferation efforts are to receive $387 million available from prior years and $491 million that is to be transferred from other accounts. In all, that means a 74 percent increase in nonproliferation spending over the current year.