Lawmaker Sees Fresh Push Toward Nuclear-Weapon Spending Cuts

Representative Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), shown last year, on Wednesday said that he is planning new legislation aimed at reducing nuclear-weapons spending.
National Journal
Douglas P. Guarino, Global Security Newswire
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Douglas P. Guarino, Global Security Newswire
Nov. 13, 2013, 10:02 a.m.

WASH­ING­TON — In a seem­ingly up­hill battle aimed at mak­ing budget cuts to con­tro­ver­sial nuc­le­ar weapons pro­grams, Rep­res­ent­at­ive Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) is seek­ing in­spir­a­tion from Chica­go’s most be­lea­guered base­ball team.

“It may seem ir­ra­tion­al to be that op­tim­ist­ic in Con­gress, but “¦ I am a Cub fan,” Quigley said dur­ing a pan­el dis­cus­sion on Cap­it­ol Hill Wed­nes­day. “If any­body is op­tim­ist­ic it is a Cub fan — any­body can have a bad cen­tury.”

Even Quigley was sur­prised when an at­tempt earli­er this year to pass le­gis­la­tion aimed at scal­ing back con­tro­ver­sial plans to mod­ern­ize the B-61 nuc­le­ar bomb failed by only 22 votes. But the near-miss showed that there may be “some light at the end of the tun­nel,” he said.

The law­maker in Ju­ly offered an amend­ment to the fisc­al 2014 House en­ergy and wa­ter ap­pro­pri­ations bill that would have cut $23.7 mil­lion from the $551 mil­lion budget pro­pos­al for work on ex­tend­ing the life of the B-61. Crit­ics say the cur­rent plan to mod­ern­ize the weapon — which is sta­tioned in U.S. al­lied coun­tries in Europe — is overly am­bi­tious and goes above and bey­ond simple re­fur­bish­ments needed to con­tin­ue its use.

The Quigley amend­ment, co-sponsored by Rep­res­ent­at­ive Jared Pol­is (D-Colo.), failed by a 227-196 vote. The Illinois con­gress­man said that a pro­vi­sion in the amend­ment that would have dir­ec­ted the cost sav­ings to go to­ward re­du­cing the na­tion­al de­fi­cit en­abled him to at­tract some Re­pub­lic­an votes.

However, the same pro­vi­sion caused some Demo­crats to vote against the bill, be­cause it would have pre­ven­ted the sav­ings from be­ing put to­ward oth­er fed­er­al pro­grams, Quigley said. He is now look­ing to ad­just his le­gis­lat­ive strategy to at­tract enough votes from both sides of the aisle.

“It’s ex­traordin­ar­ily tricky but I think it can be done,” Quigley said. “There’s more votes out there on the left — in fact, if I had got­ten every Demo­crat­ic vote, this would have passed. If I had got­ten just a few more Re­pub­lic­an votes, this would have passed.”

A pos­sible strategy would be to craft le­gis­la­tion that would “make deep­er cuts on [in­ter­con­tin­ent­al bal­list­ic mis­siles] and B-61s and use the money on a wide vari­ety of is­sues,” ac­cord­ing to Quigley.

“First of all, let the De­part­ment of De­fense use the money as they see the sav­ings on pro­grams that ac­tu­ally keep us safe like coun­terter­ror­ism and in­tel­li­gence is­sues,” Quigley said. “Let’s use some of the money to re­duce the debt and de­fi­cit and some of the money to deal with so­cial pro­grams. It may seem ideal­ist­ic, but something along those lines is what’s go­ing to get you to 218 votes.”

Quigley told re­port­ers that he and his con­gres­sion­al al­lies are in the early stages of de­vel­op­ing a new, “com­pre­hens­ive bill.” He is look­ing “at the very least to edu­cate the House as we go in­to the next year of ap­pro­pri­ations” and to “ad­dress the very is­sues of what’s an ap­pro­pri­ate nuc­le­ar force, what types of weapons make sense.”

After speak­ing at the event, the Illinois con­gress­man told Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire that he had not yet iden­ti­fied a le­gis­lat­ive vehicle to which he could at­tach such pro­vi­sions. However, Quigley noted his role as a mem­ber of the House Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee, hint­ing that the fisc­al 2015 House en­ergy and wa­ter ap­pro­pri­ations bill might be a likely tar­get.

Ef­forts to cut fund­ing for the B-61 pro­gram have been backed by Sen­at­or Di­anne Fein­stein (D-Cal­if.), who chairs the Sen­ate Ap­pro­pri­ations En­ergy and Wa­ter Sub­com­mit­tee. That pan­el earli­er this year ap­proved a bill that would provide $369 mil­lion for the B-61 pro­gram — $168 mil­lion less than the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion had re­ques­ted.

Fein­stein on Wed­nes­day noted that the ad­min­is­tra­tion has jus­ti­fied the B-61 pro­gram in part by say­ing it would en­able the re­tire­ment of the sig­ni­fic­antly more power­ful B-83 nuc­le­ar bomb.

“However, we have not seen an of­fi­cial doc­u­ment from the [ad­min­is­tra­tion’s] Nuc­le­ar Weapons Coun­cil that com­mits to re­tir­ing and dis­mant­ling the B-83 in an ex­change for the re­fur­bished B-61,” Fein­stein said. “So I’ll be­lieve it when I see it.”

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