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House Adds New Limits to Arms Control Efforts In Defense Bill

By Douglas P. Guarino

Global Security Newswire

U.S. Representative Mike Turner (R-Ohio), shown last week, successfully amended the House defense authorization bill to require the president to brief lawmakers on any potential new missile defense or nuclear agreement with Russia (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak). U.S. Representative Mike Turner (R-Ohio), shown last week, successfully amended the House defense authorization bill to require the president to brief lawmakers on any potential new missile defense or nuclear agreement with Russia (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak).

WASHINGTON -- Despite a veto threat from the White House, the House on Friday added additional language to its version of the fiscal 2014 defense authorization bill that could limit the Obama administration’s arms control efforts.

Prior to Friday votes on the House floor, the bill as it was approved by the House Armed Services Committee last week already contained language that would curb the president’s ability to enter into any agreements with Russia to further reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal. According to a statement of administration policy the Obama camp issued on Tuesday, this provision would “restrict the president’s constitutional authority to negotiate international agreements.”

The GOP-controlled lower chamber on Friday nonetheless maintained that measure, and included additional language that would require the president to report to Congress the details of any potential nuclear and missile defense deals with Russia by a 239-182 vote.

The amendment, drafted by Representative Mike Turner (R-Ohio), comes on the eve of a G8 summit in the United Kingdom next week. While there, President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin are widely expected to discuss missile defense and nuclear arms control issues.

Any such confab follows repeated Republican criticism over an incident last year in which Obama told Putin’s predecessor in the post, Dmitry Medvedev, that the White House would have more flexibility to negotiate over the issue of European-based missile defenses after his 2012 reelection.

The defense bill the House approved on Friday additionally maintains proposed reductions to spending accounts that the Obama administration would use to implement the existing New START nuclear arms reduction deal with Russia. Also affected are funds for the Cooperative Threat Reduction and Global Threat Reduction Initiative programs, which aim to lock down vulnerable nuclear materials that could be used by terrorists.

The administration has warned that it “strongly objects” to the reductions, but an amendment offered by Representative Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) that would have restored the New START implementation funding was voted down.

On Thursday, House Republicans also added language reportedly dictating that all of today's 450 ICBM silos must be kept in “warm” status over Democratic objections that doing so could restrict the administration’s ability to find savings in a tight budget environment.

Representative Adam Smith (D-Wash.) on Thursday argued unsuccessfully that the United States has “well over 5,000 nuclear weapons” and would maintain the ability “to scare the living crap out of anybody” even if any unused missile silos are not maintained.

House Democrats were also unsuccessful in their attempt to restrict funding for domestic missile defense.

Representative Jared Polis (D-Colo.) offered an amendment that specifically would have limited “funding for advanced procurement of inefficient ground-based interceptor rocket motor sets and the costly refurbishment of Missile Field 1 at Fort Greely, Alaska," until the Defense secretary "makes certain certifications to Congress," indicating that the head of U.S. Northern Command "has full confidence in the missile defense system.”

The amendment, which stems from Democratic concern that ground-based interceptors have failed some tests, was rejected. Language added by Turner in committee markup requiring the construction of an additional missile defense site on the East Coast by 2018 was also maintained on the House floor over Democratic objections.

The Senate version of the defense authorization bill does not contain such a requirement. Full details of the upper chamber’s version, which the Senate Armed Services Committee approved this week, are expected to be released next week.

Last year, the Democrat-controlled Senate -- along with the Republican leadership of the House Energy and Commerce Committee -- successfully removed in conference several controversial provisions related to nuclear arms and missile defense issues that had been backed by the House Armed Services Committee. Other contentious provisions last year included East Coast missile defense requirements and measures that would have reduced Energy Department oversight over the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.

This year, House Armed Services Republicans are seeking to reform DOE oversight by expanding a pilot project in which contractors that run weapons complex sites evaluate their own performance. The administration argued in its policy statement this week that such a provision “could result in unacceptable reduction of protection of workers, the public and security interests.”

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