House Democratic Bid to Question Nuclear Weapons Plan Fails in Panel Vote

Then-California Lt. Governor John Garamendi speaks during a 2009 public meeting in San Francisco. Garamendi, now a U.S. congressman, tried to add provisions to the annual defense authorization bill on Wednesday that would require studies of the cost and need of certain nuclear weapons.
National Journal
Douglas P. Guarino
May 8, 2014, 8:27 a.m.

House Demo­crats on Wed­nes­day sought to in­clude in the an­nu­al de­fense au­thor­iz­a­tion bill re­quire­ments for form­al stud­ies and re­ports on the ne­ces­sity of vari­ous nuc­le­ar weapons and how much it would cost to main­tain them.

The minor­ity party in the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, however, had to settle for more nar­row pro­vi­sions re­quir­ing only less form­al, or­al brief­ings from the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion on these is­sues. The Re­pub­lic­an ma­jor­ity re­jec­ted Demo­crat­ic amend­ments that went any fur­ther.

The Demo­crat­ic ef­fort fol­lowed a Janu­ary re­port by the James Mar­tin Cen­ter for Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion Stud­ies that as­ser­ted the cur­rent U.S. plan for mod­ern­iz­ing the na­tion’s nuc­le­ar ar­sen­al is so ex­pens­ive that it could not real­ist­ic­ally be im­ple­men­ted.

Con­gress and the ex­ec­ut­ive branch do not yet fully know the cost of the plan’s vari­ous com­pon­ents, said the re­port. Its sole re­com­mend­a­tion was for law­makers to re­quire the ad­min­is­tra­tion “to an­nu­ally pro­duce an in­teg­rated nuc­le­ar de­terrence budget” that pro­jects the full cost of each sys­tem in the nuc­le­ar ar­sen­al.

The ver­sion of the de­fense au­thor­iz­a­tion bill that the House com­mit­tee ap­proved on Wed­nes­day does not in­clude pro­vi­sions that would re­quire any­thing so broad and de­tailed, though.

Com­mit­tee Re­pub­lic­ans ac­cep­ted an amend­ment from Rep­res­ent­at­ive Hank John­son (D-Ga.) that would re­quire the De­fense sec­ret­ary to ad­dress the is­sue of “fund­ing re­quire­ments for nuc­le­ar de­terrence bey­ond a 10-year budget win­dow,” but only in the form of a brief­ing to law­makers.

Rep­res­ent­at­ive John Gara­mendi (D-Cal­if.) offered an amend­ment that would re­quire the non­par­tis­an Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­ab­il­ity Of­fice to ana­lyze the jus­ti­fic­a­tion for “the size of the nuc­le­ar tri­ad.” The three “legs” of the tri­ad are sub­mar­ine-based bal­list­ic mis­siles, ground-based bal­list­ic mis­siles, and grav­ity bombs de­livered by long-range air­craft.

“Do we need all three?” Gara­mendi asked while dis­cuss­ing the amend­ment dur­ing a full com­mit­tee markup of the fisc­al 2015 de­fense au­thor­iz­a­tion bill. “Can we get by with one, for ex­ample, sub­mar­ines only?”

Gara­mendi — who called the U.S. nuc­le­ar ar­sen­al “ex­tremely ex­pens­ive “¦ to say noth­ing of dan­ger­ous” — said the last “ser­i­ous” GAO study that looked at the ques­tion of the size and jus­ti­fic­a­tion for the nuc­le­ar ar­sen­al was 20 years old.

“We need that in­form­a­tion to make a ra­tion­al de­cision for how we’re go­ing to spend the tax­pay­er’s money,” he said.

An­oth­er Gara­mendi amend­ment would have re­quired the De­fense sec­ret­ary to draft a re­port on the feas­ib­il­ity of con­tinu­ing to de­ploy B-61 grav­ity bombs in Europe. The bombs are set to un­der­go a con­tro­ver­sial re­fur­bish­ment the law­maker said would cost from “$12 to $15 bil­lion over the dec­ade.”

Gara­mendi with­drew both these pro­posed pro­vi­sions on the basis of an agree­ment un­der which com­mit­tee Re­pub­lic­ans would ac­cept an­oth­er amend­ment the Demo­crat offered re­gard­ing a planned long-range stan­doff cruise mis­sile. The ad­op­ted pro­vi­sion would re­quire the De­fense De­part­ment to ad­dress jus­ti­fic­a­tion for the weapon, but only in an or­al brief­ing to law­makers.

Even this com­prom­ise seemed to sur­prise out­go­ing com­mit­tee Chair­man Howard McK­eon (R-Cal­if.), who con­grat­u­lated Gara­mendi on get­ting the amend­ment through.

“I don’t be­lieve that,” McK­eon said when the pan­el ap­proved the Gara­mendi pro­vi­sion. “Con­grat­u­la­tions.”

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