WASHINGTON -- The spending plan put forward on Tuesday by the chairman of the U.S. House Budget Committee would preserve funds intended to modernize the nation's nuclear complex over the coming decade (see GSN, March 31).
The budget blueprint unveiled by Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) for fiscal 2012 and beyond is intended to reduce federal government spending by $6.2 trillion over the next decade and cut the deficit by $4.4 trillion. The only two areas protected against future spending cuts would be national security and defense spending and Social Security, the public pension program for senior citizens.
The Wisconsin lawmaker's plan "assumes full funding for the modernization of the infrastructure that builds and maintains the nation's nuclear weapons systems," the 73-page document states.
As it pursued ratification of the U.S.-Russian New START nuclear arms control deal last year the Obama administration pledged to invest $85 billion over 10 years to modernize U.S. nuclear research and production facilities and to maintain an aging atomic arsenal.
Congress has yet to approve a permanent budget blueprint for fiscal 2011, which is now more than half over. Republicans are pressing for tens of billions of dollars in spending cuts that would trim the federal deficit.
Budget negotiations between the White House and congressional leaders are set to continue on Wednesday. A deal must be reached before Friday night, when the latest short-term spending measure expires, or the federal government will close its doors.
It was not immediately clear on Wednesday what stockpile operations would continue in the event of a government shutdown.
The administration blueprint for the next federal budget calls for the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration, the semiautonomous branch of the Energy Department that oversees the arsenal, to receive nearly $12 billion in the fiscal year that begins on October 1 (see GSN, Feb. 15).
Of that amount, $7.6 billion would go toward the agency's "weapons activities" accounts, which cover all efforts that directly support the nuclear stockpile. The appeal also asks for $2.5 billion for the NNSA "defense nuclear nonproliferation" program, which manages varied efforts around the world to prevent the spread of nuclear material.
Ryan's budget proposal makes no mention of U.S. nonproliferation efforts. His office did not respond by press time to questions on whether those funds would also be preserved.
An agency spokesman on Tuesday declined to comment on Ryan's blueprint.
Last week, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.) expressed confidence that modernization funds would be shielded from congressional budget cuts (see GSN, March 29).
"Chairman Ryan's budget blueprint successfully proposes to cut $6 trillion in federal spending, while maintaining our commitment to modernizing our decaying nuclear weapons," Kyl spokesman Ryan Patmintra told Global Security Newswire by e-mail on Wednesday. "It's time for the Senate to honor its commitments."
Two weeks ago the 16 members of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee unanimously signed a letter to Ryan asking that requested NNSA funding be preserved in fiscal years 2011 and 2012 and classified as national security spending to prevent future reductions (see GSN, March 28).
Panel Chairman Michael Turner (R-Ohio) lauded Ryan's plan.
"Chairman Ryan has recognized the importance of maintaining our commitments to national security spending. ... His budget strengthens our nuclear modernization efforts," Turner said in a statement on Tuesday.
Thomas D'Agostino, NNSA chief, on Tuesday highlighted the agency's responsibilities in maintaining the nuclear stockpile, preventing diversion of vulnerable fissile materials around the world, and providing atomic propulsion systems to the country's submarines and aircraft carriers as key reasons why it should be spared from possible spending cuts.
"It would be hard for me to imagine that that could not possibly be national security work," he told the Strategic Forces Subcommittee.
The House Budget Committee on Wednesday began its markup of the president's fiscal 2012 budget request.
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