GOP, White House Clash over Nuclear Security Provisions in Defense Bill

President Obama attends the opening session of the Nuclear Security Summit in the Netherlands on March 24. The Obama administration and House Republicans are clashing over nuclear security provisions in annual defense authorization legislation.
National Journal
Douglas P. Guarino
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Douglas P. Guarino
May 20, 2014, 10:52 a.m.

As an­nu­al de­fense au­thor­iz­a­tion le­gis­la­tion nears the House floor, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and House Re­pub­lic­ans con­tin­ue to clash over key nuc­le­ar weapons and non­pro­lif­er­a­tion is­sues.

In a state­ment of ad­min­is­tra­tion policy re­leased Monday even­ing, the White House says it “strongly ob­jects” to bill lan­guage that would pre­vent the En­ergy De­part­ment from con­tinu­ing to con­duct nuc­le­ar se­cur­ity work in Rus­sia un­til the Ukraine crisis — and con­cerns about po­ten­tial Rus­si­an vi­ol­a­tions of vari­ous arms con­trol treat­ies — are re­solved.

The work in­cludes ef­forts to se­cure build­ings in Rus­sia where sens­it­ive nuc­le­ar ma­ter­i­als are stored, among oth­er pro­jects.

“Co­oper­a­tion with Rus­sia re­mains an es­sen­tial ele­ment to the glob­al ef­fort to ad­dress the threat posed by nuc­le­ar ter­ror­ism,” the state­ment says, echo­ing sen­ti­ments of U.S. Un­der­sec­ret­ary of State Rose Got­te­moeller. The State De­part­ment of­fi­cial said earli­er this month that stop­ping such col­lab­or­a­tion would be tan­tamount to shoot­ing “ourselves in the foot.”

Ac­cord­ing to the White House, “Crit­ic­al bi­lat­er­al nuc­le­ar non­pro­lif­er­a­tion activ­it­ies are con­tinu­ing in a num­ber of key areas, and nuc­le­ar se­cur­ity is of para­mount im­port­ance.”

Sim­il­arly, the ad­min­is­tra­tion “strongly ob­jects to the sig­ni­fic­ant re­duc­tion of funds” the House bill seeks to make to the En­ergy De­part­ment’s Second Line of De­fense pro­gram, which aims to pre­vent the smug­gling of dan­ger­ous nuc­le­ar ma­ter­i­als across bor­ders.

Con­gres­sion­al Demo­crats and nuc­le­ar watch­dog groups, mean­while, have com­plained that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has not been re­quest­ing enough funds for the pro­gram in re­cent years.

“The Glob­al Nuc­le­ar De­tec­tion Ar­chi­tec­ture in­teg­rates ef­forts across the U.S. gov­ern­ment to de­tect the move­ment of nuc­le­ar and ra­di­olo­gic­al ma­ter­i­als, and the SLD pro­gram is a vi­tal com­pon­ent of that ar­chi­tec­ture,” the White House says. “Ab­ruptly re­mov­ing SLD cap­ab­il­it­ies would res­ult in gaps in our de­fenses that can­not be filled by any oth­er pro­gram.”

House Re­pub­lic­ans, mean­while, are look­ing to in­tro­duce ad­di­tion­al pro­vi­sions that would re­strict key arms con­trol ef­forts. Rep­res­ent­at­ive Doug Lam­born (R-Colo.) will seek to of­fer an amend­ment when the bill reaches the House floor this week that would pre­vent the United States from spend­ing money on com­ply­ing with the New START arms re­duc­tion agree­ment with Rus­sia un­til the Ukraine crisis is re­solved and oth­er con­di­tions are met.

At press time, the Re­pub­lic­an-led House Rules Com­mit­tee had not yet de­cided wheth­er the Lam­born meas­ure — along with oth­er amend­ments to the bill — would be al­lowed to pro­ceed to the floor for con­sid­er­a­tion by the full House.

While House Re­pub­lic­ans are look­ing to lim­it spend­ing on nuc­le­ar-se­cur­ity and arms-con­trol pro­grams, they are sim­ul­tan­eously try­ing to ac­cel­er­ate con­tro­ver­sial ef­forts to mod­ern­ize the U.S. nuc­le­ar weapons ar­sen­al with pro­vi­sions that are also draw­ing the ire of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion, for ex­ample, says one pro­vi­sion would cause the En­ergy De­part­ment to pro­duce plutoni­um pits for nuc­le­ar weapons faster than it would need them. The House bill looks to main­tain pre­vi­ously stated pit pro­duc­tion goals, des­pite the En­ergy De­part­ment’s re­cent de­cision to delay con­tro­ver­sial plans to build an in­ter­op­er­able nuc­le­ar war­head that would re­place both Navy and Air Force weapons.

Sim­il­arly, the ad­min­is­tra­tion ob­jects to a pro­vi­sion that would ac­cel­er­ate the con­tro­ver­sial pro­duc­tion of a long-range stan­doff weapon, or cruise mis­sile.

In ad­di­tion to ac­cel­er­at­ing weapon mod­ern­iz­a­tion ef­forts, House Re­pub­lic­ans also are look­ing for guar­an­tees that all three legs of the so-called nuc­le­ar “tri­ad” will be main­tained. The tri­ad in­cludes ground-launched mis­siles, sub­mar­ine launched mis­siles, and grav­ity bombs dropped from air­planes.

Lan­guage already in the bill, to which the ad­min­is­tra­tion ob­jects, would re­quire that every in­ter­con­tin­ent­al bal­list­ic mis­sile silo cur­rently con­tain­ing a de­ployed mis­sile be pre­served in “warm status.”

A pro­posed amend­ment to the bill, offered by Rep­res­ent­at­ive Steve Daines (R-Mont.), whose home state hosts mis­sile silos, would state that it “is the policy of the United States to op­er­ate, sus­tain and mod­ern­ize or re­place the tri­ad of stra­tegic nuc­le­ar de­liv­ery sys­tems.”

House Demo­crats, mean­while, are look­ing to study the costs and the need for main­tain­ing the en­tire tri­ad, fol­low­ing a re­cent re­port by the James Mar­tin Cen­ter for Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion that ar­gued the cur­rent mod­ern­iz­a­tion plan is too costly to im­ple­ment.

An amend­ment by Rep­res­ent­at­ive Mike Quigley (D-Ill) would dir­ect the non­par­tis­an Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­ab­il­ity Of­fice “to con­duct an ana­lys­is of the jus­ti­fic­a­tion and ra­tionale for main­tain­ing the nuc­le­ar tri­ad, and to identi­fy any ex­cess that may res­ult in cost sav­ings.”

An­oth­er meas­ure, by Rep­res­ent­at­ive Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), would re­quire the Con­gres­sion­al Budget Of­fice “to up­date, on an an­nu­al basis, [its] re­port on the pro­jec­ted costs of U.S. nuc­le­ar forces.”

Demo­crats offered sim­il­ar amend­ments at the com­mit­tee level, but the Re­pub­lic­an ma­jor­ity al­lowed only more nar­row pro­vi­sions re­quir­ing less form­al, or­al brief­ings from the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion on those is­sues.

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