Congress Expected to Vote on Defense Spending Bill

Thomas D'Agostino, head of the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration, speaks during the formal activation of radiation detection technology at a port in Shanghai, China. D'Agostino's agency would receive more than $2 billion for nonproliferation programs through a defense bill being considered this week in Congress (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Thomas D'Agostino, head of the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration, speaks during the formal activation of radiation detection technology at a port in Shanghai, China. D'Agostino's agency would receive more than $2 billion for nonproliferation programs through a defense bill being considered this week in Congress (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

The U.S. House of Representatives was anticipated on Wednesday to vote on and approve fiscal 2012 defense spending legislation that would not include threatened Republican language that would constrain the White House's prerogative to make further reductions to the nation's nuclear arsenal, the Associated Press reported (see GSN, Dec. 13).

The massive $662 billion bill, which sets allowed funding levels for the Defense Department and national security programs at the Energy Department, could be voted on in the Senate on Thursday. Fiscal 2012 began on Oct. 1.

Negotiators from both chambers' Armed Services Committees worked up until Monday night on compromise tweaks to the bill that they believe have resolved contentious issues such as a congressional-mandate on the military handling of suspected extremists. President Obama had threatened to veto the bill over the combat detainee issue. The White House is presently reviewing the newly revised compromise language (Donna  Cassata, Associated Press/Boston Globe, Dec. 14).

Language in the approved House version of the bill that could have limited the Defense Department's authority to enact the provisions of the New START arms control treaty with Russia has been eliminated from the conference committee report reached with the Senate, the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation said in an analysis.

The House measure might have restricted the administration's ability to reduce deployed or nondeployed nuclear weapons below levels set by the nuclear accord, unless required by another treaty or authorized by Congress, according to previous reporting.  the House measure could also prohibit the executive branch from eliminating weapons from the "hedge force" until the mid-2020s IT m  the House measure could also prohibit the executive branch from eliminating weapons from the "hedge force" until the mid-2020s the House measure could also prohibit the executive branch from eliminating weapons from the "hedge force" until the mid-2020s It the House measure could also prohibit the executive branch from eliminating weapons from the "hedge force" until the mid-2020s   

The compromise bill now calls for the Pentagon to report to Congress on the program for carrying out its New START work. The nuclear disarmament treaty requires both Russia and the United States to reduce their respective deployed long-range nuclear arsenals to 1,550 warheads and caps the number of fielded strategic nuclear delivery platforms at 700, with another 100 systems allowed in reserve.

The conference report also urges that further cuts to the U.S. nuclear arsenal be based on a detailed analysis of the geopolitical environment and directed by certain objectives. It supports the goal of maintaining and updating the nuclear arsenal and demands a presidential report if resources for that work prove inadequate. A number of other reports are demanded, including a document that would make the case for cuts to deployed or reserve nuclear weapons beyond the force in place when the legislation is enacted.

"Unlike the House bill ... the conference report does not infringe upon the Pentagon's flexibility to implement New START or subject future proposals to change U.S. nuclear force levels to rigid preconditions," according to the center.

The White House under the conference measure would also be required to inform Congress of any new nuclear weapon targeting strategy.

Committee negotiators decided to not limit the White House's authority to provide Russia with classified antimissile system data but did require the relevant committees be notified a minimum of two months prior before any such information exchange takes place (Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation report, Dec. 13).

The United States and NATO have worked unsuccessfully for a year to persuade Russia to join their plan for a European missile defense system. Points of dispute include Moscow's demand for a legally binding pledge that the shield would not be aimed at its nuclear forces.

Some U.S. lawmakers are concerned the White House might provide Russia with technical specifics on the Standard Missile 3 interceptor prior to completing fielding of the antimissile system, Foreign Policy reported. Increasingly advanced versions of the system are to be deployed around Europe in coming years.

"It's not at all clear that the Russians have any interest in so-called missile defense cooperation with the United States, but assuming the State Department or Defense Department propose to offer classified information to Russia on U.S. missile defenses, for the first time, they will have to tell Congress before they do so," a Republican Capitol Hill staffer said. "Congress will have plenty of time to evaluate the proposal and raise objections as necessary" (Josh Rogin, Foreign PolicyDec. 13).

The compromise bill would fully meet the White House's fiscal 2012 request for $1.16 billion for the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system and would demand reports on efforts to address issues highlighted by a failed December 2010 interceptor trial launch. It would obligate the Pentagon to provide Congress with an analysis of its "hedging strategy" for shielding the United States from ballistic missile strikes, including the possibility of fielding antimissile systems somewhere on the East Coast, according to the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation analysis. 

Weapons operations at the National Nuclear Security Administration's would receive $7.3 billion in fiscal 2012 -- $355 million less than the amount sought by the Obama administration. The funding allocation includes $1.07 billion for work on a replacement vessel for the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines, $197 million for a new strategic bomber and nearly $10 million for a new air-to-surface nuclear cruise missile.

Nuclear nonproliferation activities at the agency would be set at $2.3 billion for fiscal 2012 -- a reduction of $216 million from the amount sought by the Obama administration. Almost all of the cut funding would come from the Mixed Oxide Fuel initiative. The semiautonomous Energy Department agency's funding request for its International Nuclear Materials Protection and Cooperation initiative would be fully met and there is a $500 million allocation for the NNSA Global Threat Reduction Initiative -- a cut of  $8 million from levels originally sought.

The committee report includes an opinion of Congress  that the fielding of U.S. nonstrategic warheads in Europe serves an important purpose in undergirding the NATO nuclear alliance (Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation report).

Lawmakers also decided to allocate $390 million for the Medium Extended Air Defense System, even though the Pentagon has already announced it does not intend to purchase any of battlefield antimissile systems, the Syracuse Post-Standard reported (see GSNAug. 22).

The antimissile technology is being jointly financed by the United States, Germany and Italy. The decision was made to include the fiscal 2012 funding to avoid the harsher $800 million financial penalty that would have gone into effect should Washington end all financial support of the program. The Pentagon had sought $540 million for the program in fiscal 2012 (Mark Weiner, Syracuse Post-Standard, Dec. 13).

 

December 14, 2011
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The U.S. House of Representatives was anticipated on Wednesday to vote on and approve fiscal 2012 defense spending legislation that would not include threatened Republican language that would constrain the White House's prerogative to make further reductions to the nation's nuclear arsenal, the Associated Press reported .