WASHINGTON -- In a seemingly uphill battle aimed at making budget cuts to controversial nuclear weapons programs, Representative Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) is seeking inspiration from Chicago’s most beleaguered baseball team.
“It may seem irrational to be that optimistic in Congress, but … I am a Cub fan,” Quigley said during a panel discussion on Capitol Hill Wednesday. “If anybody is optimistic it is a Cub fan -- anybody can have a bad century.”
Even Quigley was surprised when an attempt earlier this year to pass legislation aimed at scaling back controversial plans to modernize the B-61 nuclear bomb failed by only 22 votes. But the near-miss showed that there may be “some light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
The lawmaker in July offered an amendment to the fiscal 2014 House energy and water appropriations bill that would have cut $23.7 million from the $551 million budget proposal for work on extending the life of the B-61. Critics say the current plan to modernize the weapon -- which is stationed in U.S. allied countries in Europe -- is overly ambitious and goes above and beyond simple refurbishments needed to continue its use.
The Quigley amendment, co-sponsored by Representative Jared Polis (D-Colo.), failed by a 227-196 vote. The Illinois congressman said that a provision in the amendment that would have directed the cost savings to go toward reducing the national deficit enabled him to attract some Republican votes.
However, the same provision caused some Democrats to vote against the bill, because it would have prevented the savings from being put toward other federal programs, Quigley said. He is now looking to adjust his legislative strategy to attract enough votes from both sides of the aisle.
“It’s extraordinarily tricky but I think it can be done,” Quigley said. “There’s more votes out there on the left -- in fact, if I had gotten every Democratic vote, this would have passed. If I had gotten just a few more Republican votes, this would have passed.”
A possible strategy would be to craft legislation that would “make deeper cuts on [intercontinental ballistic missiles] and B-61s and use the money on a wide variety of issues,” according to Quigley.
“First of all, let the Department of Defense use the money as they see the savings on programs that actually keep us safe like counterterrorism and intelligence issues,” Quigley said. “Let’s use some of the money to reduce the debt and deficit and some of the money to deal with social programs. It may seem idealistic, but something along those lines is what’s going to get you to 218 votes.”
Quigley told reporters that he and his congressional allies are in the early stages of developing a new, “comprehensive bill.” He is looking “at the very least to educate the House as we go into the next year of appropriations” and to “address the very issues of what’s an appropriate nuclear force, what types of weapons make sense.”
After speaking at the event, the Illinois congressman told Global Security Newswire that he had not yet identified a legislative vehicle to which he could attach such provisions. However, Quigley noted his role as a member of the House Appropriations Committee, hinting that the fiscal 2015 House energy and water appropriations bill might be a likely target.
Efforts to cut funding for the B-61 program have been backed by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee. That panel earlier this year approved a bill that would provide $369 million for the B-61 program -- $168 million less than the Obama administration had requested.
Feinstein on Wednesday noted that the administration has justified the B-61 program in part by saying it would enable the retirement of the significantly more powerful B-83 nuclear bomb.
“However, we have not seen an official document from the [administration's] Nuclear Weapons Council that commits to retiring and dismantling the B-83 in an exchange for the refurbished B-61,” Feinstein said. “So I’ll believe it when I see it.”