The congressional select committee assigned to identify avenues for reducing the nation's deficit by $1.2 trillion should consider cutting tens of billions of dollars intended to maintain and modernize the country's nuclear-weapons complex, a senior House lawmaker said on Tuesday.
“America needs a new nuclear weapon as much as Lady Gaga needs another new outfit,” Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said at a Capitol Hill news conference.
Markey and 64 other House Democrats on Tuesday sent a letter urging the 12-member, bipartisan committee to look at a major atomic-arsenal rollback, saying that the country could spend more than $700 billion on nuclear weapons over the next 10 years.
“We call on the super committee to cut $20 billion a year, or [$]200 billion over the next 10 years, from the U.S. nuclear-weapons budget,” the message states.
That money should instead be funneled to protect social programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, and the Federal Pell Grant program, according to Markey.
One of his proposals is eliminating the air-based component of the nation’s nuclear triad.
“Our nuclear policy is the epitome of overkill,” the lawmaker said. “When you get your annual flu shot, do you think, 'Well, one shot protects me from the flu, then 10 flu shots must give me 10 times more protection?' Of course not, and that's exactly what we're doing with our current nuclear policy.”
Meanwhile, a group of roughly 50 nongovernmental organizations, including arms-control advocates and social-policy and religious groups, distributed a letter asking members of Congress to support Markey's recommendations.
The proposal met stiff resistance from House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairman Mike Turner, R-Ohio, an ardent supporter of nuclear-weapons funding.
“Congressman Markey should be more careful before irrationally proposing policies that would gamble with our national security. At a time when Russia and China are engaging in significant nuclear modernization programs and North Korea and Iran continue their illegal nuclear weapons programs, what Mr. Markey proposes amounts to unilateral disarmament of the U.S.,” Turner said in a statement.
He said Markey's $700 billion figure is “simply not factual” and that the total investment in the nuclear-arms complex would come out to roughly $212 billion over the next decade.
In a bid to draw Republican votes for the New START nuclear-arms-control deal with Russia, the Obama administration last year agreed to a 10-year, $85 billion plan to modernize U.S. nuclear research and production facilities and to maintain an aging stockpile. The Senate ratified the treaty last December. It entered into force in February.
This summer, Congress and the White House struck a deal to raise the federal debt ceiling into 2013, preventing the government from defaulting on its obligations. The agreement called for $350 billion in defense-spending cuts over 10 years as part of $1 trillion in mandatory savings.
While the measure did not offer specifics on where defense cuts should occur, it demanded ceilings on "security" spending, which included funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration, the semiautonomous branch of the Energy Department that maintains the country's atomic arsenal.
The agreement also established the bipartisan panel and charged it with devising a strategy to slice the deficit by at least another $1.2 trillion. Should the joint committee fail to reach an agreement, or Congress not act on its recommendations, the debt package would automatically trigger the $1.2 trillion in cuts; $500 billion of that would come directly from Pentagon accounts.
Markey’s proposed $200 billion in cuts would come from a variety of initiatives, including almost $10 billion from the cancellation of the life-extension programs for the B-61 gravity bomb and the W-78 warhead used on Air Force Minuteman 3 ICBMs, according to an initial breakdown provided by the congressman's office.
The plan aims to save nearly $28 billion by reducing the number of Navy Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarines to eight; delaying procurement and cutting back on the number of next-generation nuclear-capable submarines; and paring down the number of Trident D-5 ballistic missiles to 200, the document shows.
“There is broad, bipartisan security consensus that we can no longer afford to carry these Cold War weapons into the new 21st century,” Joseph Cirincione, president of the antinuclear Ploughshares Fund, said during the press conference.
“This is just part of the problem we have with the nuclear weapons budget; we spend so much on nuclear weapons that we don't know how much we spend,” he said, adding that no “comprehensive” nuclear budget exists.
Markey would also remove the nuclear mission for the country's bomber force and the developmental F-35 fighter aircraft, deleting one leg of the nation's atomic triad, and would cancel the development of a new, nuclear-capable bomber for a savings of roughly $78 billion.
The budget blueprint seeks another $19 billion in savings by canceling development of future NNSA facilities, including the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement site at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, the Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility and associated buildings at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.
The plan would also “curtail” the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency by $55 billion over 10 years, the breakdown shows. It does not elaborate.
Markey told reporters his office is drafting legislation that would tie funding freed up by the nuclear weapons cuts to specific social programs, such as Head Start. He did not say when the measure would be introduced in the House.
The “coalition” of Democratic lawmakers and nongovernmental organizations could seek the support of Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who earlier this year introduced a deficit-reduction plan that would cut $79 billion in spending on nuclear-weapons systems over the next decade by reducing the U.S. atomic arsenal to below the ceiling of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads established by the New START deal, Markey said after the event.
“Too much of the conversation is about defense spending in general and not specific, and here we're going to provide the specifics of what … can be cut without endangering our security at all,” he said.
Representatives from the involved nongovernmental organizations have met or are planning to meet with staffers for all 12 joint committee members, John Isaacs, executive director of the Council for a Livable World, told reporters.
The committee has until Nov. 23 to vote on a deficit plan.