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"Forget the Rest" blog

September 11, 2011 

Bulletin #129 (for New Mexicans): Rep. Heinrich asks Obama to increase warhead spending, bypass pending cuts

Dear friends and colleagues --

For the second time this year Rep. Martin Heinrich has been a leader in requesting that nuclear weapons programs join the DoD in special exemptions that protect Obama's proposed increases in nuclear weapons spending from the delays and cuts about to be imposed by the Congressional appropriations process.  (See "Lawmakers ask Obama to shield nuke programs from funding cuts", in today's edition of The Hill.)  (Don't be confused: this article errs, as do many concerning military appropriations, in calling an actual increase a "cut" if that increase is not as great as once proposed.) 

The letter is quoted as saying the special exception is needed to keep "on track the tight schedule for infrastructure modernization and life extensions of our current warhead types." 

The "infrastructure modernization" in question is primarily the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF) and related projects at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) at the Y-12 facility in Tennessee, which two facilities are expected to cost about $12 billion, according to both appropriations committees.   (Privately, some government analysts are using much higher numbers.) 

In so doing, Heinrich is again leading the House Democrats in turning the Energy and Water Appropriations bill against renewable energy, home weatherization, levee repair, environmental cleanup at LANL and elsewhere, and all its other non-military purposes.  Given the extremely high inefficiency of the nuclear weapons program as a job creator, much less efficient even than broad tax cuts (a low bar against which to compare), Heinrich is not just working against green jobs, but against jobs altogether.  (For a little discussion see item 10 here.)  I have no idea what Heinrich thinks; perhaps he doesn't notice that the federal budget, and this appropriations bill in particular, is a zero-sum game.  What's indisputable is the anti-environmental, anti-employment effect of his action, should it be successful. 

Heinrich's role in promoting nuclear weapons is among the most prominent among all House Democrats, if not the most prominent. 

Writing with Strategic Forces Chair Michael Turner (R-OH), Heinrich wants the nuclear weapons program to be provisionally funded at the requested, much-increased level for next year (fiscal year 2012) even though both the House and Senate are now moving to appropriate a much lesser sum ($498 and $399 million, or 7% and 5%, less than requested, respectively).  These proposed appropriations are 3% and 4% more than is currently appropriated, respectively.  These relatively big increases in a year when most other Energy and Water programs are likely to cut, especially by the House. 

While in theory Congress might act later to lower nuclear weapons spending for the rest of the fiscal year, if such a "temporary" exception is granted all parties will be reluctant to do so once hiring and contracts are in place.  For example if Congress, halfway into the new fiscal year, finally passed an appropriations bill that provided 6% less than requested for the year as a  whole -- as good a guess as any at this point --  NNSA would have to lower its spending for the second half of the year to 12% less than requested in order to finish the year within budget.  That would be a big, hard cut.  Then, very likely spending would have to be raised again the following year, whiplashing everybody.  So any "temporary" big increases are very likely to become permanent big increases, which is of course why the letter is being written.  To put it crudely, the import of the Turner/Heinrich's letter is: forget the appropriations process, just give NNSA and its labs the money they want.   Let the nuclear weapons program write its own ticket, because, like the military, it is special and above the vagaries of congressional deliberation.  This is very dangerous. 

Said differently, Heinrich's letter asking for far more appropriations than approved by the two appropriations committees can be seen as a powerful "end run" that would short-circuit the careful balancing which goes into the appropriations process.  This process is very far from perfect but it does balance a variety of interests, and it is also the primary way Congress has oversight of the nuclear weapons complex, which is about 95% privatized, and dominated by just a very few huge contracts (pdf).  In the case the three laboratories, these contracts, extended as they routinely are, run into the tens of billions of dollars. 

New Mexico's two senators are also fully supportive of privileging nuclear weapons at the expense of other Energy and Water priorities, as prior bulletins have frequently documented.  I have no idea of what they are all thinking, but if they were thinking much at all about the terrible tradeoffs involved I would be surprised.  Supporting any and all spending at New Mexico's nuclear weapons laboratories has become reflexive for the New Mexico delegation, who often seem more like employed marketing consultants and lobbyists than elected representatives, as far as the labs are concerned.  Journalists have called our senators "the senators from the labs." 

If you are interested, the previous letter (from Democrats only) that (successfully) requested a special exemption for NNSA nuclear weapons programs is excerpted below.  It was addressed to Rep. Paul Ryan, House Budget Committee Chairman, and was necessary because the Republican-controlled House saw no need for such a special exemption for nuclear weapons, as was explicitly made clear.  The House Armed Services Committee, with the crucial help of its Democrats and especially Martin Heinrich, overcame that frugality. 

Greg Mello

Feb. 8, 2011
Dear Chairman Ryan:

We write to express our concern regarding the potentially dire consequences that the Budget Committee's planned budget allocation would have on the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), and to seek clarification of what you are including in security spending.  The Fiscal Year 2011 (FY11) budget allocations for non-security discretionary spending that you intend to submit to the Congressional Record may negatively affect our nation's nuclear deterrent and disrupting [sic] nonproliferation programs that are vital to our national security.
Despite these important national security missions, the NNSA -- which is part of the Department of Energy -- may be reduced to FY08 funding levels or less for the remainder of FY11, if it is currently considered "non-security spending."

[This was because NNSA administrators D'Agostino and Cook required its contractors to spend money at the higher rate implied by the proposed FY11 appropriation, which was never enacted.  By the time this letter was written (about half-way through the fiscal  year), reverting to the FY10 spending levels for the fiscal year as a whole would have required lowering the rate of expenditure for the remainder of the year to less than the FY10 rate -- i.e. to roughly the FY08 rate mentioned.  NNSA won it's high-stakes game of budget "chicken" this year, with the critical help of these key House Democrats.]
Similarly, maintaining a safe, secure, and reliable nuclear deterrent is a national security priority.  The Secretary of Defense stated in April 2010, "The United States must make much-needed investments to rebuild our aging nuclear infrastructure, both facilities and personnel" and the Administration committed $84 billion over the next decade to modernize the nation's nuclear weapons complex and perform warhead life extension programs.  In support of these plans, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, authorized $7 billion in FY11 for NNSA Weapons Activities, a considerable increase in spending over the FY08 level, and the Continuing Appropriations Act for FY11 allowed NNSA to spend at its proposed FY11 level." 
We believe NNSA's responsibilities are germane to our national security.  We therefore urge the Budget Committee to clarify and include specific security exemptions for NNSA weapons activities, nonproliferation programs, and naval reactors that are vital to our national security.
[Signed by seven Democrats on the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, including Martin Heinrich.]

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