WASHINGTON — Two top GOP senators are urging President Obama to stick with nuclear modernization plans, arguing he is bound by longstanding commitments he made to Congress.
The letter from Senate Armed Services Chair John McCain, R-Ariz., and Senate Foreign Relations Chair Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, made the plea to Obama in the wake of his speech at Hiroshima and recent comments from White House official Ben Rhodes at an Arms Control Association event that suggest those plans may be rethought.
“We are concerned Mr. Rhodes' comments may presage efforts, such as a rumored ‘Blue Ribbon’ panel, to review the modernization program you promised to fund for as long as you are president, which would obviously contradict your personal promise to the Senate and military necessity,” Corker and McCain wrote in the June 17 letter.
Arms control advocates argue the letter misinterprets Obama’s commitments and that he should rethink past plans now that the costs are better understood. Officials and experts are predicting a “bow wave” of nuclear-modernization costs the Pentagon will find difficult to absorb — a projected total of about $350 billion between 2014 and 2023.
“Distorting what happened in 2010 can't hide the fact that the current nuclear weapons spending plans are unnecessary, likely unexecutable, and urgently in need of review,” Reif said.
“Our administration has already made plain our concerns about how the modernization budget will force difficult trade-offs in the coming decades,” Rhodes said.
That rang alarm bells with Corker and McCain, who pointed to Obama’s stated plans in 2010 to modernize or replace elements of the nuclear triad. They also highlighted statements from Pentagon officials on the importance of nuclear modernization as well as the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, the 2013 Nuclear Employment Guidance, and 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review.
“Mr. President, your administration has submitted six budget requests that have done a credible - though not complete - job of fulfilling the commitment you made to the Senate during ratification of New START, even while key capabilities have slipped beyond the schedule you laid out,” the letter reads. “Senior administration officials have warned that Department of Defense and Department of Energy nuclear modernization programs are ‘fragile’ and that lack of funding in the out-years will ‘undermine the administration efforts to achieve new plutonium capabilities and replace aging infrastructure.’”