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"Forget the Rest" blog


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Udall Talks Cuts, But Works to Maintain Funding for Labs

By Peter Neils
Los Alamos Study Group

I have watched as an untruth started by former Senate hopeful Martin Chávez has inexplicably gained momentum in New Mexico's major newspapers. Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., was being falsely accused of doing the right thing, voting to reduce funding to Los Alamos National Laboratory. It is time someone set the record straight.

The House Appropriations Committee quite sensibly reduced the proposed funding for expanded plutonium pit manufacturing at Los Alamos National Laboratory. They cut other Los Alamos programs also, as part of an effort to rein in burgeoning nuclear weapons spending, but in terms of dollars most of the cuts were in pit production.

The story we are hearing is that Udall voted for cuts to lab funding. This is simply not true.

This is what happened. As is customary there was no recorded vote on the bill in committee. Udall, however, expressed his deep concern about the implications of the cuts on lab operations.

Then, when the bill reached the floor, Udall offered an amendment to restore the funding cut by the committee. Nearly all the Democrats and most of the Republicans in the House of Representatives voted against it, a humiliating defeat.

With program funding issues settled, the bill was sent back to committee, by prior agreement, to work out earmark details. When the final version of the bill came again before the full House, Udall supported it. He had to— it contained his own earmarks, and by the previous agreement all substantive debate about line-item spending was over. He had tried to add back funding and failed by a wide margin.

Even the White House didn't rush in to support its own weapons programs! He had gone against a bipartisan Appropriations Committee consensus as well as bucked his own party leadership and failed. So with 311 other members of the House, including 86 Republicans and all but one member of his own party, Udall voted for final passage. Had he had not done so, he and New Mexico would have been punished in future votes.

Udall wants to have it both ways by being a lab booster— employees are a major source of campaign contributions— while holding out the conversion fantasy to would-be progressive Democrats who are also staunch financial supporters. Supporting the start-up of a new generation of nuclear weapons contradicts his vision of conversion, and is a betrayal of the majority of his constituents who wish to see disarmament, not a new arms race.

I envision a different future for the lab: A smaller core of scientists might work seriously on non-proliferation and real national security problems; management would stop using the federal treasury as an ATM and dedicate itself to actually cleaning up its legacy waste.

Contrary to Udall, I believe the House's majority thinking was correct and hope that body's new romance with fiscal responsibility and vigorous oversight of the nuclear complex is not just an overnight fling.

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