By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
The House yesterday approved plans to halt funding for the development of a new generation of nuclear warheads as House leaders called on the Bush administration to provide a post-Cold War nuclear strategy that would detail the future size of the U.S. nuclear stockpile.
While approving most portions of the $32 billion fiscal 2008 appropriations bill for energy and water development, the House put off final passage until later this summer while it works out details of funding for local Army Corps of Engineers flood-control projects.
The House action, which eliminated about $82 million for continuing development of the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program, also reduced spending for the upgrade and modernization of facilities in the nuclear weapons complex that are involved in refurbishing deployed bombs and warheads, storing older ones and dismantling those no longer needed.
Overall, the House bill reduced President Bush's budget request for nuclear weapons programs by $632 million, to $5.9 billion. At the same time, it raised by $491 million, or 75 percent, the amount available for nonproliferation activities. In giving his support to the measure, House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey (D-Wis.) emphasized that the weapons program cuts were made "because there's been no strategy for post-Cold War nuclear weapons."
Meanwhile, two advocates of the RRW program, Rep. Heather A. Wilson (R-N.M.) and Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.), spoke out against the House action. Two of the nation's three nuclear weapons laboratories, Los Alamos and Sandia, are in their state.
Wilson, during the House floor debate, described the action as "the most radical shift in U.S. policy on nuclear weapons that I've seen at least since the mid-1990s." At that time, during the Clinton administration, the decision was made to create a stockpile stewardship program that, with the aid of billions of dollars in new scientific equipment, could keep nuclear weapons reliable without testing them by refurbishing their nonnuclear parts.
Wilson added: "The decisions imbedded in this legislation will lead us either to return to nuclear testing or to abandon nuclear deterrence because we will stop maintaining the stockpile."
Domenici, in a Senate floor speech, said the House bill would "send American nuclear deterrence strategy in a new and absolutely unknown direction." He agreed that the RRW program deserved study but said it "must involve far greater resources than those involved in the House report language." He also said the House reductions do "irreparable harm" to the stockpile stewardship program by cutting funds for some needed facilities.
As the ranking minority member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds the nuclear complex, Domenici will be in position to restore some of the funds the House cut, including some money to keep the RRW going. The Senate Appropriations panel is scheduled to mark up the energy measure next week.