Nuclear weapons budget battles

Knives are out in the initial skirmishes over the fiscal 2013 funding for the nuclear weapons complex in the U.S., as a key appropriations committee meets this week.

The Republicans have lined up their talking points. Senator Jon Kyl set the tone last week, accusing the administration of “meekly” accepting cuts in Congress instead of fighting for full funding in line with a commitment to modernize the infrastructure linked to ratification of New START. In the House, Kyl’s ally Mike Turner, chairman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, echoed the comments of the Senator who also said that the 2013 budget request was “stretching the line between manageable risk and peril”.

It’s clear that in a Presidential election year, the Obama administration wants to ensure that Congress- whose approval ratings stand at 14 percent – takes the blame for any gridlock. But the Republican-dominated House, whose committees control spending, is intent on denying Obama a second term.

The House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee met last Wednesday and approved a bill in line with Obama’s fiscal 2013 plan for the nuclear weapons infrastructure. The President is requesting .6 billion in 2013 for the modernization plans out of a total million promised over the next decade as part of the deal that cleared the way for the New START ratification.

However Turner complained last week that Obama seems to have “abandoned” the 10-year commitment. The budget request for .6 billion is four per cent lower than the Administration’s projection in 2010 (although five percent higher than in the 2012 budget).

So now the budget discussions threaten to derail implementation of the New START treaty under which the U.S. and Russia agreed to cap their deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550 apiece.

The discussions will continue this week, when the full House Appropriations Committee meets, but also in the months ahead.

Lurking in the background is a sequestration threat, still looming after a Congressional “super committee” failed to reach agreement last year. Across the board cuts of billion are to be applied to the defense budget if Congress fails to reach agreement by next January. Right now the betting is that the most likely chance of agreement will only be after the November elections.
These are the views of the author.

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