The special congressional committee assigned to reduce the national deficit by $1.5 trillion should not cut funds intended to modernize the country's nuclear complex over the next decade, a senior House lawmaker said on Friday (see GSN, Aug. 3).
"I am deeply concerned about the debt panel's ability to make unrestricted cuts. These members will be under intense pressure to find savings in areas other than entitlements," House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairman Mike Turner, R-Ohio, said in an exclusive statement to Global Security Newswire.
"During that process, they may make cuts to essential national security programs—including the [National Nuclear Security Administration]," he added, referring to the Energy Department agency that oversees the atomic stockpile. "Any additional cuts to this agency would jeopardize our nuclear deterrent, and our defense posture."
The Ohio lawmaker's concern was shared by Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.
"Senator Kyl believes that modernization of our nuclear deterrent should be fully funded, as required by the 1251 report," Kyl spokesman Ryan Patmintra told GSN by e-mail on Thursday. That document lays out program plans for modernizing atomic arms and the infrastructure that supports them.
As it sought Senate support for ratification of the U.S.-Russian New START nuclear arms control deal, 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.
Congress and the White House this week finalized a deal to raise the federal debt ceiling into 2013, preventing the government from going into default on its obligations. The agreement calls for $350 billion in defense spending cuts over 10 years as part of a total $1 trillion in mandatory savings.
Though the measure itself contains no specific defense reductions, it does demand ceilings on "security" spending, which includes the Pentagon; the departments of State, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security; the National Nuclear Security Administration; the Agency for International Development; and the CIA.
Senior lawmakers, defense officials, and experts are still uncertain how deep the first round of cuts in fiscal 2012 might be. The next budget year begins on October 1.
The newly minted agreement also establishes a 12-member bipartisan panel charged with coming up with a strategy to reduce the deficit by $1.5 trillion on top of the initial $350 billion cut.
If the joint committee fails to reach an agreement, the debt package would trigger another $1.2 trillion in cuts, including an additional $600 billion that would be stripped directly from the Pentagon's coffers over the next decade, an action the administration would like to avoid, according to Jacob Lew, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.
"Make no mistake: the sequester is not meant to be policy. Rather, it is meant to be an unpalatable option that all parties want to avoid," he wrote.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday issued a message saying that the first round of reductions in military spending are "in line" with what officials had been anticipating.
President Obama in April directed the Pentagon to find $400 billion in budgetary savings over the next 12 years.
However, Panetta warned, if the bipartisan committee fails to reach a compromise, the requirements of the debt package could trigger "dangerous across-the-board defense cuts that would do real damage to our security, our troops and their families, and our ability to protect the nation."
"This potential deep cut in defense spending is not meant as policy. Rather, it is designed to be unpalatable to spur responsible, balanced deficit reduction and avoid misguided cuts to our security," he wrote. "Indeed, this outcome would be completely unacceptable to me as secretary of Defense, the president, and to our nation's leaders."
A senior administration official on Thursday predicted the new panel would strike an agreement.
"The trigger was crafted to create a huge incentive for Congress to act and avoid painful cuts to both security and domestic programs," the official, who was not authorized to speak on the record, told GSN by e-mail. "We're confident that it will work and Congress will produce a package that allows the country to meet deficit reduction targets in a fair and balanced way."
This article originally appeared in Global Security Newswire, produced independently by National Journal Group under contract with the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group whose mission is preventing the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.