Skip to comments.Deep Cuts to Nuclear Weapons Funding [ALERT: Congress slashes Bush nuke arms budget]
Posted on 11/11/2003 12:37:24 AM PST by risk
|November 6, 2003 - WE DID IT! - Deep Cuts to Nuclear Weapons Funding
| Congress slashes Bush nuke arms budget
GOP opposes developing new types of weapons
James Sterngold, Chronicle Staff Writer
After months of intense infighting, Republicans on a House-Senate conference committee resisted heavy pressure from the White House and agreed to sharp cuts in the funding requests for several nuclear weapons programs sought by President Bush.
The sums at stake were relatively modest, measuring in the millions of dollars, for programs in their early stages. But the compromise spending bill marked a victory for those in Congress -- including many Republicans -- who have been seeking to blunt Bush's aggressive program to develop new types of nuclear weapons more than a decade after the end of the Cold War.
"It's fair to say there was a lot of skepticism" about the president's program among Republicans as well as Democrats, said John Scofield, a spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee, headed by Rep. Bill Young, R- Fla.
Still, some of the Democrats who have been furious opponents of the new weapons programs took little solace in the funding reductions.
Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Walnut Creek, a leading voice on the issue, said she was gratified that the conference committee held the line on spending for the weapons, but she said she still feared the spending sent the wrong signal to the countries the United States is trying to persuade to abandon nuclear efforts.
"I am deeply concerned that even a little money will go a long way to invalidate any remaining credibility we have on arms control and nonproliferation issues," Tauscher said. "You have to ask yourself why we're doing this."
Kevin Rohrer, the spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the weapons programs, said the agency had not yet seen the final language of the completed bill and so would have no comment.
The conference committee agreed to provide just $7.5 million, half the amount requested, for development of a type of nuclear warhead that would burrow deep into the earth to destroy buried bunkers.
The committee agreed to give the president the full $6 million he had requested for research into entirely new types of advanced warheads, but it said it would withhold $4 million of that money until the Bush administration submits a long overdue document detailing what weapons will be withdrawn from the stockpile in coming years, and what new ones the administration intends to introduce.
That document is supposed to be provided annually, but the Bush administration has yet to conclude a single version since taking office in 2001. With this appropriations bill, Congress appeared to be putting its foot down in demanding the detailed blueprint before offering any significant sums for weapons research.
The conferees also slashed $12 million from the White House request for funds to study and design a new plant to manufacture the plutonium cores, known as pits, for nuclear weapons. The final bill provides just $10.8 million for what is called the Modern Pit Facility.
And the final bill includes the full $24.9 million the administration requested to enhance the readiness of the Nevada Test Site, where nuclear weapons were tested in deep underground shafts until the first President George Bush instituted a moratorium in 1992.
However, the spending bill permits the administration only to improve the site so that a new test could be conducted within 24 months, not the shorter 18 month timeframe the White House had requested.
"I look at this as a victory for common sense," said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, which had been lobbying against the programs. "It's a modest victory, but I'm pretty pleased because Congress is basically laying down a marker. It sends a message that there's a lot of skepticism on these programs."
Bush has said that, even with the Cold War over, the nuclear stockpile is important as a deterrent to potential enemies. He has said that new weapons must be developed for new missions, such as destroying stocks of weapons of mass destruction in underground bunkers, and that the old arsenal must be updated.
He has also sought to remove a decade-old law preventing the development of smaller, more usable low-yield nuclear warheads. The House and the Senate are still working on a compromise that would permit research into the new types of weapons, but would prevent their actual development without a new authorization by Congress.
E-mail James Sterngold at firstname.lastname@example.org.