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
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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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