House Slashes Nuclear Weapons Budget Request

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CITING A "FLAWED budget process," the House of Representatives July 18 overwhelmingly approved a fiscal year 2004 appropriations bill that slashes President George W. Bush's request for funds needed to conduct earth-penetrating nuclear weapons research, build a new plutonium pit- manufacturing facility, and shorten the potential time frame for conducting a nuclear test to 18 months.

The 377-26 vote on the Energy and Water Appropriations bill reflected a stinging challenge to the president's proposed spending level of $8.8 billion to fund Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear weapons programs. Representative David Hobson (R-Ohio), chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water, led the attack on the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) budget.

In a July 8 statement, Hobson said, "Based on the President's decision to reduce our nuclear stockpile, I thought we were trying to consolidate the nuclear weapons complex around the country-not expand it." Under the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) signed in May 2002 by Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the United States and Russia each agreed to reduce their operational nuclear arsenals and deploy only 1,700-2,200 warheads by 2012. Citing the need for a "serious debate" about the national security requirements for the nuclear weapons program, the Appropriations Committee concurred that it "will not assume that all of the proposed nuclear weapons requests are legitimate requirements," according to the July 15 panel report.

The overall Weapons Activities budget was cut by $260.4 million-for a total budget of $6.1 billion, and the full committee report cited concerns that the nuclear weapons stockpile plan has not been modified to incorporate anticipated changes as a result of SORT. Hobson pointedly noted that, although House appropriators requested a plan for the nuclear weapons stockpile reflecting the reductions outlined in SORT, which entered into force June 1, 2003, "we are still waiting for that plan," which House appropriators first requested in September 2002.

Directed Stockpile Work was cut by only $21 million, but the committee juggled funds considerably to meet stockpile maintenance needs while forcing NNSA to re-evaluate several programs. The committee cut $15 million from programs to study potential earth-penetrating nuclear weapons capabilities and to fund additional research on advanced nuclear weapons concepts. …