Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Feud May Trigger Lab Cuts
By Michael Coleman And John Fleck
Copyright © 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writers
WASHINGTON— New Mexico's nuclear laboratory budgets remained in limbo Tuesday as congressional leaders haggled over a massive federal spending bill and Sen. Pete Domenici warned that nuclear programs could take a direct hit.
Democrats pulled their $520 billion spending proposal off the table late Monday after President Bush's budget director warned of a veto. Democratic leaders, as well as some House and Senate Republicans, are at odds with the White House over domestic spending and war funding.
The Democratic version contained $11 billion more than President Bush had requested for domestic spending, but half of what Democrats initially asked for. Contained in that spending blueprint is $6.35 billion for the U.S. nuclear weapons program, which funds Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories.
Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, on Monday proposed stripping the bill of roughly $9.5 million in so-called "earmarks," or regional pet projects favored by lawmakers, as well as carving out all spending on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obey has not specifically suggested trimming nuclear spending, but his spokeswoman ruled nothing out Tuesday.
"If we are forced to go to the president's (spending) levels then there will be serious cuts to valuable programs across the board," Kirsten Brost told the Journal on Tuesday.
Domenici, the top Republican on the Senate subcommittee that secures money for the labs, said it stands to reason that nuclear programs, which include funding for the labs, would see spending cuts.
Domenici said the reductions likely would be spread across the nuclear weapons budgets as opposed to focused on one or two programs.
If the cuts needed to meet the president's target are made across the board, it would require cutting an additional $180 million from nuclear weapons programs.
"It's hard (to decide on specific programs); it's awful," Domenici told the Journal. "We'll probably just take a trim off of everything."
Domenici said he'll do his best to prevent that from happening.
"We'll just have to stand our ground," Domenici said. "If we could put them in our shoes and have them see what we're trying to do, they might not want to make these nuclear laboratories so weak."
Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said House leaders have given him assurances that funding for Los Alamos, which is in his district, will be "adequate."
"I continue to believe those assurances," Udall said in a statement.
Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a government watchdog group that closely monitors federal spending, said it is possible— even likely— that House Democratic leaders will look to cut nuclear programs since the full House has already voted to slash their budgets.
Domenici and Senate negotiators successfully lobbied earlier this year to replace much of the House cuts to the National Nuclear Security Administration.
"The House Energy and Water Subcommittee has been skeptical of that (nuclear spending), so I would say they might target it," Ellis said.
Domenici said a proposed energy and water spending agreement contained in the spending bill Bush has threatened to veto was a good compromise.
That $6.35 billion included in the bill for the nuclear weapons program would have been $70 million above this year's spending level, according to an analysis provided by Domenici's staff.
"We think we had a very good bill for New Mexico, considering what we started with," Domenici said.