Following two days of often impassioned debate, senators voted last week to provide funding for research on low-yield nuclear weapons, an earth penetrating nuclear weapon, modification of the Nevada Test Site, and the planning for a new plutonium pit weapons production facility. Funding for all of these initiatives were requested by the Bush Administration, but was rejected in part or in full by the House of Representatives this summer.
The key Senate vote on these nuclear initiatives was on September 16, when by a vote of 53 to 41 senators rejected an amendment by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to prohibit funding for the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, Advanced Weapons Concepts, modification of the readiness posture of the Nevada Test Site and a new pit production facility. Funding for these programs is provided through the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill. The Senate bill runs counter to the House-passed version of this same bill (see FYIs # 99 and 100).
Following the defeat of this amendment, senators passed by voice vote an amendment offered by Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) limiting the requested funding to the first three phrases of nuclear weapons research. No money could be spent on the development, testing, or deployment of a new nuclear weapon, or for the modification of an existing weapon to be used as an earth penetrator. Reed's amendment is consistent with language contained in the Senate's FY 2004 Defense Authorization Act. Under the current provisions of both the Senate's FY 2004 Defense Authorization act, and now the FY 2004 energy appropriations act, the Department of Energy must obtain permission from the Congress before conducting work in these areas.
The differing positions that the House and Senate have taken means that these provisions will have to be resolved by a conference of the appropriators of both the House and Senate subcommittees. The Administration is, as expected, opposed to the House position. A Statement of Administration Policy released by the Office of Management and Budget in July explains the Administration is "strongly opposed" to the House language, stating, "Failure to invest in these initiatives will impede our ability to transform the Nation's nuclear deterrent by denying policy makers the information they need to make decisions in an informed manner." This OMB statement was followed by an op-ed in the Washington Post by Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham criticizing the "hysterics" of those opposed to the funding. These views run counter to the House appropriator's position which states, "There needs to be a serious debate about whether the approximately $6 billion spent annually on DOE's nuclear weapons complex is a sound national security investment. Until that debate occurs and the DOE weapons budget is subject to meaningful budget trade-offs, this Committee will not assume that all of the proposed nuclear weapons requests are legitimate requirements." After the conference settles this and other differences in the two versions of the FY 2004 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act, it will be sent back to each chamber for a final single up or-down vote.
The results of Senate vote 00349 to table, or kill, the Feinstein amendment can be viewed at http://www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/vote_menu_108_1 .htm
A future FYI will contain excerpts from the Senate debate.