ABQ Journal North
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
House OKs Lab Funding Cuts
By John Fleck
Journal Staff Writer
The U.S. House of Representatives gave final approval Tuesday to a bill
that could lead to substantial cuts at New Mexico's nuclear weapons design
The House approval, on a 312-112 vote, would cut nuclear weapons
spending by the Department of Energy by $396 million— 6 percent.
The Senate, meanwhile, is pushing a $213 million increase— 3 percent. To
come up with a final spending plan, leaders of the two bodies must come
together to reconcile the differences between the two spending plans.
Sorting out the differences in the nuclear weapons budget involve larger
questions about how much money is available for related energy and water
projects in fiscal 2008.
The House bill could mean the loss of 900 jobs at Sandia National
Laboratories and even more at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Democrat Tom Udall, who represents Los Alamos, voted in favor of the
bill. New Mexico Republicans Heather Wilson, whose district includes Sandia,
and Steve Pearce voted against it.
The Senate Appropriations Committee has proposed a budget increase
instead of a cut.
But that bill is not likely to reach the Senate floor until after the
August congressional recess, according to Chris Gallegos, spokesman for Sen.
Pete Domenici, R-N.M.
The fear, Wilson said in a recent interview, is that the Senate will not
get to it before the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year. One approach at that
point, which has been used in recent years, is to lump all uncompleted
spending legislation into one big omnibus bill. "It's a lot harder to fix
things" in an omnibus bill, Wilson said.
A key difficulty in reconciling House and Senate spending plans is the
overall size of the bill, Domenici said.
The money is part of a larger bill that also funds energy and water
projects. The total on the Senate side— nuclear weapons, energy and water
included— is $700 million more than on the House side.
That made it easier for senators crafting the bill to increase nuclear
If the overall amount available for the House-Senate compromise bill is
not raised, any attempt to roll back budget cuts at the labs would have to
come at the expense of other projects.
"It's a whole lot easier to increase the allocation than to take it away
from a hundred water projects or the Corps of Engineers on the Mississippi,"
Without bringing the overall size of the bills into agreement, solving
discrepancies over lab funding will be difficult, Domenici said during a
recent meeting with reporters.
"It will be nigh on impossible to resolve the bills with the current
difference in the amount of money to spend," he said.