Weapons and Non-proliferation Budget Fights: Wins, Losses and Approaching End Game

The issues that are before the House and the Senate are a set of amendments and a key floor vote on the FY-2011 funding bill, which is taking the form of a Continuing Resolution.  In a surprise vote, the House voted down a second engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter project.  The combination of liberal Democrats and conservative Republican freshmen, some “tea party” types, killed the expensive project for the moment. 

The irony is that both Secretary Gates and President Obama opposed the second engine as costly and unneeded.  Other surprises were a vote to eliminate funding for Iraq security forces. The latter vote could put in jeopardy the administration’s effort to shift security responsibility from American forces to Iraqis.  There were strange sights on the House floor and one can only wonder what the rest of the year will look like.

The other fight is over funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s weapons “modernization” programs, largely based at various national labs under the Energy department.  In an act of mindless blackmail or extortion, Right Wing Republican Senators forced the Obama administration to accept a $84 billion 10 year program of weapons “modernization” in order to get New Start treaty ratified.  In reality, that was nothing more than pork for the national labs and an effort to go back to a “cold war” military stance that is no longer relevant. 

Most disinterested government officials and experts thought such funding was unneeded at that level. The game was all to try to derail the New START treaty ratification which almost succeeded.  Now the fight is in the House and the same conservative Republican freshmen are looking at cuts to this expensive and pork laden program. 

On the side of fiscal extravagance, we find such arch budget cutters as Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who took the floor to fight against any cuts. The FY-2011 CU on the floor made an exception to cutting for this program so that it would be fully funded at the request level of $7 billion (yes that’s BILLION). Think of how much good most of that amount can do for American unemployment, building a renewable energy base to prevent us being blackmailed by Middle East suppliers of oil, and putting American in the front of a key new technology!  But the cut was only $300 million short of the requested level—chunk change in the larger context of this enormous boondoggle.

On the other side of this high stakes game is an effort to cut the funding for non-proliferation programs by 22%. That is a cut of $602 million, or twice the level of the cut in weapons “modernization.” In this case all the GOP conservatives largely lined up in the House for the cut, despite the fact that this program is aimed at the truly critical need to keep nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists.  It is, as John Isaacs of the Council for A Livable Word, said “a grave error and dangerous for American Security.”  As long time policy expert in this area, I share this view.

In March, the House passed CR, with warts and all will be in the Senate for its action and finally a decision by Obama to either veto a bad CR or accept whatever horror comes out of Congress, possibly facing a closedown of government caused by the myopia of Right Wing Republicans seeking to put Obama down and damn the nation.  This is, in the end, playing a game with America’s future, well-being and security.

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