When the U.S. House Armed Services Committee meets next month to debate the 2013 defense authorization bill, expect a robust discussion over missile defense and nuclear weapons.
That debate was absent when the House strategic forces subcommittee met April 26 to mark up its portion of the authorization bill. The hearing lasted less than 10 minutes with lawmakers thanking each other for a productive markup process.
However, the statements submitted for the record made clear that disagreements remain between the Republican and Democratic leadership on the committee.
“Of course, as with prior years, there are things we haven’t been able to agree on completely,” subcommittee chair Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, said in his statement. “I look forward to amendments that my ranking member and her colleagues will draft over the next week and a half as we prepare for the full committee mark-up.”
Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., and ranking member on the subcommittee, spoke very briefly at the hearing.
“Debate is not for today, but for the future,” she said.
In her written statement, she explained some of her concerns.
She disagrees with “increasing funding for nuclear weapons while slashing over half of the number of National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) employees who plan and oversee work done at the nuclear weapons complex, even as the mark transfers to NNSA many responsibilities until now under the purview of the Department of Energy.”
In its markup, the subcommittee recommends reducing the staff in the NNSA’s Office of the Administrator to 800 in 2014, while increasing the authorized number of scientific, engineering and technical positions from 300 to 450.
Sanchez said that some of the governance and management reforms “will undermine independent oversight related to safety, including nuclear safety, for the nuclear weapons complex and may lead to weaker or inconsistent standards for protecting workers and the public.”
According to her statement, several subcommittee members have concerns about proposed funding cuts to the missile defense Precision Tracking Space System.
She also questions the need to increase funding for Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) program before test failures have been addressed.
The subcommittee mark adds $357 million to the GMD program, for a total of $1.3 billion. Of the new funding, $100 million is for the Defense Department to evaluate three possible locations selected for a covered missile defense site on the East Coast of the United States. Part of this study includes preparing an environmental impact statement for the possible sites.
“The secretary of defense shall ensure that a covered missile defense site on the East Coast of the United States is operational by no later than December 31, 2015,” the draft legislation says.
In her statement, Sanchez questions the need “to mandate a costly East Coast missile defense site.”
“I look forward to engaging in an informed debate at full committee mark-up on opportunities for further progress [on] nuclear weapons reductions to strengthen our national security and on how to ensure we apply limited tax dollars effectively,” Sanchez said.
Turner said he would work closely with committee members as they draft amendments to the bill before the full committee meets for debate May 9.
During an April 25 speech, Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he would like to increase funding for missile defense, calling the White House’s request “woefully inadequate.”
The Missile Defense Agency’s 2013 budget request was $7.8 billion, which doesn’t include missile defense funding included in the military services’ budgets.
Meanwhile, a group of freshmen Republican senators, led by Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., is pushing the Obama administration to increase funds for nuclear weapon modernization.
In an April 26 letter to President Barack Obama, the 12 freshmen Republican senators say the administration is not funding nuclear modernization at the levels it promised when the New START Treaty was ratified.
“A failure to honor past nuclear modernization commitments will impact our willingness to support New START implementation and any future treaties related to our nuclear weapons complex,” the senators say.
In addition to Ayotte, the letter was signed by Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.; John Boozman, R-Ark.; Dan Coats, R-Ind.; John Hoeven, R-N.D.; Ron Johnson, R-Wis.; Mike Lee, R-Utah.; Jerry Moran, R-Kan.; Rand Paul, R-Ky.; Rob Portman, R-Ohio.; Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; and Pat Toomey, R-Pa.