Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, are spearheading legislation aimed at holding the Obama administration accountable for nuclear modernization pledges it made last year (see GSN, May 4).
"We're going to ensure that the administration complies with the commitments that it made," Kyl, the Senate's No. 2 GOP leader, said Monday at a media round table. "Better to have it in writing, understood by both parties exactly what's required, so that we don't have confusion in the future."
Bills drawn up by the two lawmakers for consideration in both chambers also seek to prohibit unilateral U.S. warhead reductions and preserve the nation's missile defense options. Turner introduced his proposal, H.R. 1750, in the House on Friday, while Kyl could file his version in the Senate as early as Tuesday.
The White House has promised to spend $85 billion over the next 10 years on updating warheads and modernizing the nuclear weapons complex. Projects include extending the service lives of Air Force and Navy nuclear weapons, including those carried by the B-61 gravity bomb and the Trident submarine-launched ballistic missile, as well as building new facilities to research and process warhead uranium and plutonium.
The investment includes a $4.1 billion plus-up that the White House in November promised to spend in the coming decade on nuclear modernization. That came after an initial budget boost last spring of $10 billion over the decade for the National Nuclear Security Administration, a semiautonomous arm of the Energy Department that oversees the atomic arsenal.
Washington is also expected to spend hundreds of billions of dollars more on nuclear delivery platforms such as submarines, missiles, and bomber aircraft.
The Obama administration last fall used the unprecedented funding pledges as a sweetener to draw Senate Republican votes for ratifying the U.S.-Russian New START agreement. The pact, signed in April 2010, requires each nation to cap its nuclear warheads at 1,550 and strategic delivery systems at 700. An additional 100 ICBMs, bombers and submarine-launched missiles can remain in reserve.
Following Senate ratification of the treaty in December in a 71-26 vote -- which included the support of 13 Republicans -- New START entered into force in February (see GSN, Dec. 22, 2010).
Although Kyl had played a lead role in landing the White House pledges to update nuclear warheads and their delivery systems, he ultimately voted against ratifying New START, saying he would not be rushed into embracing the treaty (see GSN, Dec. 23, 2010).
This week the Arizona senator suggested that his decision not to support the pact last year does not weaken his hand today in demanding progress on nuclear weapons updates.
"I made it clear throughout my discussions with the administration that whatever we agreed was necessary for modernization did not bind me to thereafter support the treaty if I concluded that they were either going about it the wrong way or that the terms still weren't satisfactory," Kyl said. "They knew all along that I felt that [ratification] couldn't be done adequately in the time frame that they'd pushed it, and during the lame duck" session after the November election.
The lawmaker's comments differ somewhat from the White House account at the time, when administration officials suggested that Kyl had negotiated in bad faith (see GSN, Nov. 19, 2010).
While Turner introduced the "New START Implementation Act" as a stand-alone bill, he is also working to incorporate several of its provisions into the fiscal 2012 defense authorization bill, which is making its way through the House Armed Services Committee this week.
"It's really about an agreed to-do list," Turner, who chairs the panel's Strategic Forces Subcommittee, told reporters. "[We seek] an understanding of what are the items that are outstanding [and] how should they be addressed."
He said enacting such legislation now could help avert "the conflict and dissatisfaction that could arise later" if Congress and the executive branch were to differ over modernization expectations.
Kyl said he might similarly push for measures in his bill to be wrapped into the Senate's defense authorization legislation.
A next step in both chambers might be to insert these mandates into appropriations bills, which would legally tie the federal government's financial purse strings to nuclear modernization and related mandates. However, neither lawmaker could say yet whether such a move was likely.