Congressional backing for increased nuclear weapons spending that was evident after last year’s debate on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty appears to be cracking under the weight of federal budget deficits as a Senate subcommittee last month approved a spending bill that fell $400 million short of the Obama administration’s request for nuclear weapons funding.
In the Sept. 7 vote, the Senate Appropriations energy and water subcommittee provided $7.2 billion for weapons activities for fiscal year 2012. The administration had requested more than $7.6 billion; the appropriations bill passed by the House in July provided $7.1 billion. The fiscal year 2011 appropriation was $6.9 billion.
The National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) Directed Stockpile Work, particularly the life extension program for the B61 gravity bomb, sustained one of the larger cuts in the subcommittee recommendations. In explaining the cut in that program, from $223 million to $180 million, the subcommittee focused on the NNSA’s plan to incorporate new safety features into the B61. The subcommittee said that “new safety and security features should be incorporated in weapons systems when feasible, but the primary goal of a life extension program should be to increase confidence in warhead performance without underground nuclear testing.” The House version of the bill allocated $279 million for the B61 life extension program, $55 million more than the NNSA budget request. According to the report accompanying the House bill, “The recommendation moves back funding requested under Campaigns which had been associated with the B61 in the fiscal year 2011 request.” Additionally, the report said that no more than 50 percent of the funding should be obligated until the NNSA meets certain reporting requirements.
Two other Directed Stockpile Work categories, stockpile services and stockpile systems, also received less than the administration requested while the NNSA request for weapons dismantlement was fully funded.
Fiscal year 2011 ended on Sept. 30, but Congress has not yet agreed on funding levels for most departments and agencies. The government is being funded with a short-term spending measure.