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House Votes Against Proposed Cut in FY 2013 Nuclear Weapons Technology Funding

Richard M. Jones
Number 85 - June 15, 2012  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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During the House of Representative’s consideration of H.R. 5325, the FY 2013 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill, an amendment was offered to reduce the budget for the nuclear weapons technology account by $298.0 million.  This amendment was defeated by a vote of 138 to 281. The amendment was sponsored by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) and Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA). 

Polis opened debate on this amendment:

“The Polis-Markey amendment would reduce the funding for unneeded nuclear weapons programs by $298 million in order to reduce the budget deficit.  At a time of decisions, at a time of choices, we need to ask ourselves: How much is enough with regard to nuclear defense?

“These programs included in this amendment have consistently been over budget and ineffectual. We simply shouldn’t be increasing funding for them -- yes, actually increasing funding for them. This amendment simply eliminates the increase at a time when we should be focused on deficit reduction.

“We all agree that we need to stop wasteful government spending. Congress has to justify every penny it spends to the taxpayers, the American people, the global markets. There just isn’t any justification for spending an additional $300 million, on top of prior year appropriations, on weapons programs that aren’t needed and aren’t suited to our current conflicts in the war on terror.

“This account funds programs like the B61 Life Extension Program. This program to modify nuclear bombs was originally set to cost $32.5 million and be completed in 2012. Since then, it has ballooned to $4 billion and won’t be completed until 2022. At the time that this nuclear warhead is finished, if it’s even finished by 2022, it might not even have a mission or a delivery vehicle.  Then there is the W78 Life Extension Program, which would create yet another nuclear warhead. This boondoggle was originally set to cost $26 million, and now it has cost over $5 billion.  Why would this Congress approve yet another taxpayer bailout of failed nuclear weapons technology?  Finally, there is a uranium processing facility which was supposed to manufacture components for nuclear warheads. This project was supposed to cost $1.5 billion. Now it has cost over $6.5 billion, and it is 4 years behind schedule.

“Frankly, American taxpayers can’t afford a Congress that keeps throwing good money after bad on these unnecessary nuclear weapons programs. Now, I’m sure the other side will talk about how we need to maintain our nuclear arsenal. This amendment isn’t about that. If this amendment passes, the bill still appropriates over $7 billion for nuclear weapon activities. In reality, it makes no sense to increase spending on nuclear weapons when we’ve agreed to responsibly reduce our nuclear stockpile.

“This is no longer the era of the Cold War where we have another nation state gearing a large percentage of their GNP toward competing with us on the nuclear weapons front. We are and will remain, even with the passage of this amendment, the global leader on both developing and deploying nuclear weapons technology. This simply isn’t a responsible way to govern, and it reduces our national security to spend more money than we can afford on national security. To borrow it from countries like China makes our Nation less secure, not more secure.

“I would urge the House to listen to the experts, who are telling us not to throw good money after bad. Let’s get our budget under control. Let’s get our budget on the right track by spending money on programs that are proven to protect our country, not on boondoggles that continue to cost taxpayers year after year after year without increasing our security. We need to make hard choices to get our country back on the path to fiscal sanity.

“Well, this Polis-Markey amendment is an easy choice.  Vote for the Polis-Markey amendment and against spending hundreds of millions of additional dollars on redundant and unneeded nuclear weapons technology on top of the $7 billion base included in this bill, which already allows us to be the unchallenged global leader in developing and deploying nuclear weapons. I urge a ‘yes’ vote on the Polis-Markey amendment.”

House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) opposed the amendment:

“Mr. Chairman, I rise in strong opposition to this amendment.  Assuring funding for the modernization of our nuclear weapons stockpile is the most critical national security issue in our Energy and Water bill. The Secretary of Energy must certify to the President that our nuclear stockpile is reliable. It’s absolutely essential that these funds be put in the bill and kept in the bill.

“With years of level funding, we have put off for too long the type of investments that are needed to sustain our nuclear capability as our stockpile ages. That’s why the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review concluded that additional funding was essential to ensure that our infrastructure is adequately maintained and that our warheads receive the refurbishments they need to remain reliable and effective. There has also been strong bipartisan support for carrying out the recommended increases in modernization funding.

“This amendment unacceptably strikes funding for these priority investments, which are both urgent and long overdue. I strongly urge my colleagues to make defense a priority and to vote ‘no’ on this amendment.”

Rep. Markey spoke in favor of the funding reduction:

“I rise in support of the Polis amendment. He and I are introducing this amendment so that we can, once again, demonstrate the lack of compatibility of the priorities of this budget to the overall well-being of our country.

“The Cold War ended 20 years ago. We won. Since that time, there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of nuclear weapons that both the United States and the former Soviet Union deploy.  That number continues to drop.  Yet, here in this budget, there is additional profligate spending on new nuclear weapons programs, on weapons modernization. Well, let me just say this, ladies and gentlemen: Each nuclear submarine that the United States has has 96 independently targetable nuclear warheads. That means that every single nuclear commander of a submarine in the United States can destroy the entire country of Russia, can destroy the entire country of China - each American nuclear submarine commander - and neither Russia nor China knows where those submarines are. We should be proud of ourselves. We are 10-feet tall compared to the Russians, compared to the Chinese.

“By the way, any problems that we have with Iran or with Syria in terms of Russian support for them or Chinese support for them have nothing to do with our nuclear weapons capability.  That’s not influencing them one way or the other. If we needed to ever drop a nuclear bomb on any one of our enemies - let’s just say we had a war with Iran - and after the nuclear sub commanders in the United States Navy were to send one nuclear weapon towards Tehran, what would the next target be?

“What are we doing out here? Why are we talking about additional nuclear weapons in the 21st century? Why are we talking about cutting Medicare, cutting Medicaid, cutting programs for poor children, cutting nutrition programs for poor children, and at the same time saying that we need more nuclear weapons?  This is a wayback machine. It’s a Cold War time machine that basically says that the inexorable investment of political capital already made continues to drive the investments of the future; that we aren’t going to step back and reevaluate that we won the Cold War; that we’re not going to have a nuclear war with Russia; that we’re not going to have a nuclear war with China; that we are 10 feet tall.

“Even if all there is parity, each country understands that it’s a total annihilation to use these weapons.  Let’s save this money. Vote ‘aye’ on the Polis amendment. Send a signal to the world. Send a signal to our own people that at least we can find some expenditure in the defense budget which we can cut and which is not related to our national security. That’s all that we ask from you: that please, on one vote, on the nuclear weapons issue, where we don’t need new weapons, that there is a vote for sanity, that there is a vote that we send as a signal to the rest of the world and to our own people that we understand that that nuclear arms race is over.  Vote ‘aye’ on the Polis amendment.”

House Energy and Water Development Subcommittee Ranking Member Peter Visclosky (D-IN) was the last to speak on this amendment:

“Mr. Chairman, I rise in reluctant opposition to the amendment offered by the gentlemen from Colorado and Massachusetts.  I do believe, given the work of the subcommittee, that the dollars that are contained in it represent an attempt to ensure that, looking down the road with the hopeful ratification of the New START Treaty, we will be consistent with those funding levels that will be required.

“While a world without nuclear weapons would be my preference and while the U.S. must maintain its deterrent capability today, we should also maintain the capabilities necessary to ensure that they are safe and effective.  The gentleman from Massachusetts rightfully asked are there any savings that we can see under the defense accounts, whether at the Department of Defense or the Department of Energy.  And I would point out one of the eliminations in this year’s budget are moneys for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility.  So I would again emphasize to my colleagues that the subcommittee try to look at this account with great specificity to remove those items that were not necessary and to spend our tax dollars wisely.”

Richard M. Jones
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics