By Tom Z. Collina
The House just passed an amendment offered by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) to the FY 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to require annual updates to a December Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study on the cost of U.S. nuclear weapons. The CBO report estimated that maintaining and modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal would cost $355 billion over ten years.
"There should be no objection from anyone about knowing how much the projects will cost," Blumenauer said on the House floor. "It will be valuable if you want to increase the programs. It will be valuable if you want to decrease them. It will be valuable if you just want to fund the existing program."
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), chair of the strategic forces subcommittee, did not see it that way. Rogers said that Blumenauer "wants to unilaterally cut our nuclear forces" and called the amendment "a new effort to disarm this country's deterrent."
Now, Rogers may disagree with Blumenauer's views, but he cannot make a compelling case that an annual update of the CBO cost study would undermine the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
After all, the original CBO study has been out since December, and the United States still has 4,804 operational nuclear weapons.
What is Rogers worried about? Maybe that drawing attention to the costs of nuclear weapons will lead some to question whether those costs are justified. But that is exactly the kind of debate that Congress needs to have.
Blumenauer replied to Rogers, "Why don't you want the American people to know good information every year? I am mystified by this... There is no excuse not to have the best information available."
The Departments of Defense and Energy are in the process of making long-term, multi-billion dollar decisions about how many new missiles, submarines, bombers and nuclear warheads the nation will build and deploy over the next 50 years.
At the same time, the defense budget is under stress and still needs to be cut by $115 billion from 2016-2019 to meet sequester targets, or about $29 billion per year on average.
It would appear that Rep. Rogers would rather bury his head in the sand than have an honest debate based on accurate information. His colleagues were right not to follow him.
The House of Representatives showed great wisdom today by voting to approve Rep. Blumenauer's amendment, 224-199.