An influential congressional panel on Thursday adopted a fiscal 2012 spending bill that would cut nearly $1 billion in proposed funding from U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration's weapons and nonproliferation programs.
The budget blueprint reported out by the House Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee would provide the agency roughly $10.6 billion in fiscal 2012 to maintain the country's nuclear stockpile, conduct nonproliferation activities around the globe, and fund other work -- including its naval nuclear-reactor program and defense environmental cleanup efforts.
That dollar amount is about $1.1 billion below the Obama administration's initial request of $11.7 billion for the semiautonomous branch of the Energy Department. Nearly all of the funding reduction would come from the nonproliferation and weapons accounts.
The 11-member subcommittee approved the measure by voice vote. There was no dissent.
Last week the Republican-controlled House approved a fiscal 2012 defense authorization bill that granted the White House's full funding appeal for the agency.
The Obama administration request included close to $7.6 billion for NNSA "weapons activities," which ensure the safety and performance of the nation's atomic arsenal, for the coming budget cycle that begins October 1.
The spending measure approved in Thursday's mark-up session would grant about $7.1 billion for that work, according to an initial breakdown of the appropriations bill obtained by Global Security Newswire. That is a decrease of slightly less than $500 million, or 7 percent, from the administration's request, the document shows.
In his opening statement, subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., noted the proposed legislation includes an increase of roughly $195 million from the present budget's allocation for weapons work. That amount was just shy of $6.9 billion.
The measure also "fully supports urgent ongoing efforts to secure vulnerable nuclear material worldwide," Frelinghuysen added.
Yet the same preliminary breakdown of the spending bill shows NNSA nonproliferation accounts would drop to just above $2 billion, down from the more than $2.5 billion sought by the administration and approved last month by the full chamber.
The total reduction would equal roughly $463 million, or 18 percent from the administration proposal, the document states. It also marks a $216 million, or 10 percent, decrease from the appropriated fiscal 2011 level.
The panel's lead Democrat, Rep. Ed Pastor of Arizona, complained that NNSA nonproliferation accounts are "reduced significantly" in the next budget year.
"The allocation results in a reduction in efforts to secure dangerous materials," he warned.
Meanwhile, the nuclear agency's naval nuclear reactor effort would receive roughly $1 billion, a reduction of about $123 million, or 11 percent, from the requested level, according to the preliminary breakdown of the legislation.
A report of the specific NNSA defense activity accounts affected under the proposed spending bill will be made available on June 14, the day before the full Appropriations Committee takes up the panel's bill, according to a committee spokeswoman.
The legislation approved on Thursday includes "$35 million to support Yucca Mountain activities, including $10 million for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to continue their review of the license application" and "provisions to forbid the use of funds to close down the program."
The Energy Department's decision to shutter the planned radioactive-materials storage site has drawn the bipartisan ire of congressional lawmakers. The project has taken nearly 30 years of the government's time and cost taxpayers about $15 billion, according to a recent Government Accountability Office audit.
Overall, the spending package provides roughly $30.6 billion in annual funding for the Energy Department, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, as well as several regional water and power authorities.
The subcommittee mark-up on Thursday was attended by Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., and ranking member Norman Dicks, D-Wash.
During the debate, Dicks and other Democrats decried GOP plans to "cut and grow" the nation's economy through spending reductions. The Washington lawmaker labeled the various cuts contained in the bill as "a penny wise, a pound foolish."
Rogers, however, applauded the spending measure.
"The austerity that the Congress and the country are being faced with is reflected very loudly in this bill," the Kentucky lawmaker said.
"It'd be easy to be chairman, it'd be easy to do this job if we were just increasing budgets," added subcommittee member Mike Simpson, R-Idaho. "We have to get serious about constraining growth and spending."
Rogers said he intends to have all 12 federal spending bills cleared by the full Appropriations Committee before Congress breaks for August recess.
Not every Republican on Capitol Hill was pleased at the news of the proposed spending cuts.
The subcommittee's reduction "would negatively impact programs to modernize our nuclear security infrastructure and refurbish our aging nuclear weapons," House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairman Michael Turner, R-Ohio, said in a statement on Wednesday.
That panel, which has budget-authorization oversight for the nuclear agency, actively lobbied in recent months to ensure NNSA weapons and nonproliferation activities would be spared from GOP budget-cutting measures.
The proposed cut to NNSA programs "comes as a surprise" as the spending plan for fiscal 2012 and beyond put forth by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and passed by the full chamber preserved all modernization funds, the Ohio lawmaker added.
"I fully recognize and appreciate the fiscal challenges we face. They are not easily overcome. In the face of these challenges we must set priorities and our top priority must be the defense of the nation," according to Turner.
An NNSA spokesman declined to comment on the ongoing budget process.
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