Nuclear Weapons

Nuclear bombs are not political pawns

This is part three in our series on the National Defense Authorization Act vote that concluded Friday morning. We’ve covered the Afghanistan vote, and some of the other issues addressed in the bill. Another topic of discussion in Congress this week was the status of our arsenal of nuclear warheads and related weapons systems.

The debate over the authorization bill this year basically boils down to a small group of Republicans who have gone off the deep end, and resorted to sneaky tactics to throw billions of dollars at nuclear weapons programs that even the Department of Energy and the Pentagon don’t think we need.

The bright side is that so many representatives were outraged by what the House Armed Services Committee had put in this bill, that they jumped into action with amendments. One congressional staffer told me they had never seen so many representatives all working on amendments to cut military and nuclear spending before. In fact, so many people were writing amendments, that Democrats ran out of ideas for things to cut! Here are some of the amendments about nuclear weapons that were offered.

New Los Alamos bomb plant

  • Based on his SANE Act, Rep. Ed Markey introduced this amendment to strip out money for a new nuclear bomb plant at Los Alamos, along with Reps. Sanchez and Johnson. The Department of Energy says we don’t need the plant, and the appropriations committees had already agreed not to fund it. But Republicans used sneaky procedural tactics to block this amendment from even coming up for a vote, leaving $100 million for the plant in the authorization bill. Thankfully, we have already seen that there is bipartisan support for cutting funding for this bomb plant, so we will work to keep this money out of the final version of the budget.

New nuclear bomber

  • This amendment, also by Rep. Markey with Reps. Welch and Conyers, would have delayed plans to start replacing our fleet of bomber planes to carry nuclear weapons. Delaying by 10 years would save up to $68 billion, money we really don’t need to spend on planes designed to fight 20th century wars. Unfortunately, the amendment was defeated, 112-308. See the roll call here.

Blocking nuclear reductions

  • A group of Republicans in Congress are fighting tooth and nail to turn back the clock to the Cold War arms race. A few of them are trying to use the defense bill to block the New START Treaty, which was ratified by a bipartisan majority in the Senate, and prevent President Obama from making progress toward getting rid of all nuclear weapons.
  • Rep. Price’s amendment prohibits the president from reducing the nuclear arsenal and passed 241-179. See the roll call here.
  • Another amendment from Reps. Rehberg and Lummis bans any reductions to the arsenal while also mandating that we must keep all legs of ‘the triad,’ the bombers, missiles and submarines that we’ve been using to carry our nukes since the Cold War. It also passed, 238-162. See the roll call here.

Blocking nonproliferation programs

  • In a classic example of “cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face,” Rep. Franks’ amendment blocks funds from being spent on important work to lock up dangerous nuclear material in Russia, until Russia promises to stop talking to countries we don’t like. Not cleaning up this material is very counterproductive as a “punishment,” since locking up this material will make the world a safer place for all of us, not just Russians. It passed, 241-181. See the roll call here.

Finally knowing what we spend

  • Reps. Larsen and Loretta Sanchez introduced an amendment to make the Department of Energy and the Pentagon finally provide a total accounting of all the costs involved with maintaining and modernizing our nuclear weapons. They have never had to add those numbers up before, and having this information would be immensely helpful to us in our efforts to cut nuclear spending. This was adopted into the bill in an en bloc (group) amendment.

There were several other amendments that would have done good things, like slashing extra funding for nuclear weapons and restoring crucial safety regulations for nuclear facilities. But those were also blocked from coming up for a vote by the Republicans.

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