Administration critics cite a 2010 planning document, known as the 1251 report, as if it were a sacred text. That document includes estimated funding levels for what the administration has proposed to maintain and modernize the stockpile and nuclear weapons complex. But now that the administration has identified other, much less expensive alternatives to the replacement nuclear facility, it can reduce its expenditures and still maintain a safe, secure, reliable nuclear stockpile. That, after all, should be the bottom line, not some projected budget number.
Fortunately, some in Congress have put partisan politics aside. In April, in a rare moment of bipartisan agreement, appropriations committees in the House and Senate supported delaying construction.
Despite that outcome, Republican members of the House Armed Services Committee last week not only provided funding for construction and mandated that it begin as soon as possible, they transferred responsibility for the project from the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees all work on nuclear weapons, to the Department of Defense, which does not want the project and supported the five-year delay. Perhaps most astounding, the committee Republicans prohibited spending any money on alternatives to the new nuclear facility, even if they are more effective and less expensive.
This week the defense authorization bill will come to the House floor, where attempts to overturn these actions are possible. In a budget-conscious Congress, it makes little sense to authorize an unneeded $6 billion project when that decision has already been trumped by the appropriations decision of their Republican colleagues.
It’s all over but the shouting.
Stephen Young is a senior analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists.