Funding is there for updating warheads
Some Republicans in the House of Representatives have been at odds with each other over this pledge. But the bottom line is that nuclear weapon upgrades and maintenance are being funded.
When we last updated this pledge, the House had passed a version of the National Defense Authorization Act that made implementation of the new START Treaty between the U.S. and Russia contingent on the Obama administration achieving a certain level of nuclear spending. In addition, the bill prohibited the president from unilaterally lowering the number of deployed warheads below the START Treaty cap without first receiving congressional approval.
But the Senate version of the defense bill omitted those restrictions, and that's the version that prevailed for fiscal year 2012.
"They came to a compromise that was a significantly watered down version of what was in the House (bill),” said Kingston Reif, director of nuclear nonproliferation at the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation. That group works to reduce the dangers posed by nuclear weapons and favors optimizing nuclear weapons policy and spending to meet the threats of the 21st century.
The final language of the defense bill included requirements for "assessments” of the weapons stock, but no concrete limitation on implementing the treaty.
Now the same basic fight is being waged over the 2013 defense authorization bill. In the House version, the same provisions are included tying the treaty to weapons funding. On this front, the battle is with the White House. Reif explained that Obama has requested large increases each year for the Department of Energy program, which is tasked with maintaining and refurbishing nuclear warheads and their supporting infrastructure through its National Nuclear Security Administration. For 2013, the White House requested $7.58 billion. Some House Republicans say that's not enough, so they inserted more money (an additional $320 million) into the defense bill and tied it to the START treaty.
That bill passed the House on May 18, 2012. But again, the Senate bill excludes provisions that would limit New START implementation. (The full Senate has not voted on that legislation.)
"It's headed for the same outcome,” Reif said. "The Senate doesn't support this.”
And yet, for all the infighting, nuclear weapons upgrades are being funded -- just through different means.
Last year the Obama administration, for Fiscal Year 2012, requested $7.6 billion for weapons upgrade activity. Republicans on the House appropriations committee actually cut that amount, though Reif argues they still allocated "more than enough to get the job done.”
"There's clearly a disagreement between the appropriators and the authorizers, who in effect, are not operating under the same budget constraints,” Reif said.
As broader budget battles plod on, leaders have agreed to a continuing resolution (a kind of stop-gap measure to keep the government operating). Under that agreement, the National Nuclear Security Administration will be funded at the 2013 request level, Reif said, or about $7.58 billion.
Despite these complications, the goal of this pledge is being met, and billions of dollars are being spent to maintain and modernize the nation's nuclear weapons complex. We rate this a Promise Kept.
New START Implementation Act: House and Senate versions
THOMAS, National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, April 14, 2012
Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, "Analysis of Fiscal Year 2013 House Defense Appropriations Bill,” July 2012
House roll call vote, National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013, May 18, 2012
Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, "A Review of the Senate Armed Services Committee Version of the Fiscal Year 2013 Defense Authorization Bill: Nuclear Weapons and Missile Defense”
Phone and email interview with Kingston Reif, director of nuclear non-proliferation at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, Sept. 20 & 21, 2012
GOP backing legislative language to keep promised funds from being cut
During the lame-duck session of Congress in late 2010, one of the last orders of business was for the Senate to ratify the new START Treaty between the United States and Russia. The treaty called for a cap of 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads for both signatories. The Senate ratified the treaty, 71-26, with 13 Republicans voting in favor. To garner as much Republican support as possible, President Barack Obama pledged to spend $85 billion over the next decade to modernize the United States" nuclear arsenal.
The term "modernization” refers to the upgrading and maintenance of the nation"s warheads, though there"s a bit of a blurry line between such efforts and designing a new generation of nuclear weapons, which Obama separately promised not to do.
In early 2011, Republican members in both the House and Senate drafted bills designed to ensure that Obama kept his promise on funding modernization. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, sponsored the New START Treaty Implementation Act (H.R. 1750), while Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. -- the chief Senate skeptic during the ratification debate -- also sponsored a bill by the same name (S.1097). Both bills are awaiting committee action.
The House of Representatives incorporated many elements of Turner"s bill into the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2012. Under these provisions, funds for the reduction of warheads, a requirement of the new START Treaty, were made contingent upon the administration achieving a certain level of nuclear modernization. In addition, the bill would prohibit the president from unilaterally lowering the number of deployed warheads below the START Treaty cap without first receiving congressional approval.
The Defense Authorization Act"s language relating to nuclear weapons is one of three items that President Obama found objectionable. He vowed to veto the bill if any of these were included in the final text when it reached his desk.
The budget proposal for fiscal year 2012 offered by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) -- which passed the House but was rejected by the Senate, 57-40, in late May -- also leaves nuclear modernization funding in place. The plan "assumes full funding for the modernization of the infrastructure that builds and maintains the nation's nuclear weapons systems.”
Despite the Senate setback, Ryan vows to fight on for his proposal. Ultimately, the amount of funds going toward nuclear modernization may depend on what compromise, if any, the House of Representatives and the Senate will make regarding overall federal spending as part of the debt ceiling deal.
The debt ceiling agreement included the formation of a bipartisan deficit reduction "super-committee.” If the committee fails to agree on at least $1.2 trillion in cuts, or if Congress does not pass its recommendations, then an automatic cut of $1.2 trillion will occur. Half of this cut would come from national security spending, and nuclear modernization funds fall under the national-security umbrella.
Given the uncertainty regarding future funding, we cannot evaluate with any certainty the Republicans" promise to "update our nuclear warheads.” They have offered legislative language to execute such funding, but if the "super-committee” fails to meet its targets for cuts, this funding could be at risk. We rate this promise In the Works.
New START Implementation Act: House and Senate versions.
National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012: House and Senate versions.
White House Statement of Administration Policy on H.R. 1540 - National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2012. May 24, 2011.
National Journal, "GOP Leaders Aim to Enforce Obama"s Nuclear Modernization Promises,” May 10, 2011.
National Journal, "GOP Budget Plan Maintains Nuclear Modernization Funds,” April 6, 2011.
Congressman Michael Turner (R-Ohio), press release, May 31, 2011.
POLITICO, "Senate votes down Paul Ryan budget plan, 57-40,” May 25, 2011.
CNN, "Paul Ryan wants to fight back,” August 9, 2011.