WASHINGTON ― U.S. President Donald Trump has settled an internal battle over whether to seek $20 billion for the federal agency that maintains America’s weapons, or less money, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., confirmed Tuesday.
The president will ask for the $20 billion.
The decision came after the head of the National Nuclear Security Administration, Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, agitated internally in favor of boosting the budget for nuclear weapons modernization in fiscal 2021 ― a position later backed by Inhofe and other congressional Republicans.
In internal deliberations, Gordon-Hagerty’s initial request for nearly $20 billion (a 20 percent hike from $16.7 billion for FY20) was reportedly scaled back to $17.5 billion amid opposition by White House budget officials and Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, whose department oversees NNSA.
But Inhofe said Tuesday that Brouillette and the others had been overruled.
“The resolution is: I won, you lost. I think we’re going to be right back where we wanted to be in their budget,” Inhofe said after leaving a morning meeting with Brouillette on Capitol Hill. “We just need to start modernizing and catch up with Russia.”
Inhofe also confirmed that he was among lawmakers who called for the increase in a meeting with Trump and Brouillette at the White House last week, ahead of the FY21 budget request’s expected release, Feb. 10. The administration’s decision in favor of the higher top line was first reported last week by The Dispatch.
Modernizing the nuclear arsenal would cost more than $1.2 trillion over 30 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office, but Inhofe has defended the effort by pointing to Russian and Chinese programs dedicated to developing their respective nuclear triads. He also suggested the U.S. has neglected its own aging arsenal.
Energy Department spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes confirmed that Brouillette and Inhofe on Tuesday discussed the FY21 budget request among other topics “of mutual importance to the Department of Energy and the Senate Armed Services Committee," calling the meeting “positive and productive.”
"The Secretary looks forward to working closely with the Chairman and others as Congress works to pass a final budget that ensures continued American dominance in nuclear safety and security,” Hynes said in a statement.
The White House Office of Management and Budget did not immediately return a request for comment.
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.