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House Passes Defense Bill With Nuclear Policy Restrictions

The House of Representatives on Thursday approved fiscal 2013 defense spending legislation with amendments that would curb the Obama administration's ability to make moves on U.S. nuclear arms levels, The Hill reported (see GSN, July 19).

Lawmakers voted 326-90 in favor of the appropriations bill, which would provide $518 billion for defense operations and another $88.5 billion for "overseas contingency operations" in Iraq and Afghanistan (Kasperowicz/Herb, The Hill I, July 19).

Prior to the final decision, the Republican-led chamber voted 235-178 to block financing for shrinking the U.S. nuclear arsenal beyond levels set by the New START treaty with Russia. That accord requires both nations by 2018 to hold no more than 1,550 deployed strategic warheads and 700 fielded delivery systems.

The White House has made clear its interest in pursuing additional nuclear cutbacks with Russia and possibly other atomically armed nations. Previous reporting indicated the Obama administration as early as this month could declare that the United States needs no more than 1,000 to 1,100 launch-ready weapons (see GSN, July 3). Electoral politics, though, could delay such an announcement (see related GSN story, today).

Along with the funding prohibition, the amendment demands that reductions to the U.S. nuclear arsenal in conjunction with another state be made in line with the Arms Control and Disarmament Act, "which requires approval through the Constitution's mechanisms of the Treaty Clause or an act of Congress," according to a press release from Representative Michael Turner (R-Ohio), one of the amendment's sponsors.

Turner and other Republicans have criticized President Obama for what they see as his failure to maintain nuclear arsenal modernization spending levels promised during the New START ratification campaign.

"The president seems intent on hurtling the United States down the road to nuclear zero. Any further nuclear reductions must be met with ample justification for how U.S. security will be enhanced," Turner said in the release. "That is why this amendment is so important to the national security of our nation, and that of our allies" (U.S. Representative Michael Turner release, July 19).

Another amendment, approved in a 232-183 vote, would bar use of defense money for cutting strategic bombers, ballistic missile submarines, ICBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and cruise missiles carried by airplanes, The Hill reported (Pete Kasperowicz, The Hill II, July 19).

House lawmakers also backed an addition to the spending bill that bars the delivery to Russia of classified data regarding U.S. antimissile systems, according to The Hill.

Obama administration officials have said this year that some unspecified sensitive information could be passed to Moscow as a means of promoting collaboration on a Europe-based ballistic missile shield being developed by the United States and NATO (see GSN, March 7). The sides have sought options for missile defense cooperation, but talks have failed to overcome Russia's suspicions that the system could ultimately be used against its long-range nuclear forces. Brussels and Washington argue the shield is aimed instead at potential missile threats from Iran.

Earlier reporting indicated the White House was considering providing specific information on the burnout velocity of U.S. Standard Missile 3 interceptors to be fielded in Europe.

Obama has drawn ongoing fire from Republicans after he was caught by a live microphone in March telling then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev he would have greater "flexibility" to deal with the issue after the November elections. Critics say the comment suggests a secret deal with Moscow, while backers counter that Obama was simply making an obvious statement (see GSN, June 25).

"In light of recent statements by President Obama that he wanted 'more space' from the Russians in regards to missile defense, and his statement that he would 'have more flexibility' on this issue after the elections, I am concerned … that the United States's critical hit-to-kill and other valuable missile defense technology may become pawns in a political chess game of appeasement with the Russians," said Representative Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), who submitted the amendment.

House Democrats "don't have any problem with this amendment," said Representative Norm Dicks (D-Wash.). "I would be very surprised if the administration would give any classified information to the Russian government" (Pete Kasperowicz, The Hill III, July 19).

Representative Edward Markey (D-Mass.), who has led a legislative push to reduce nuclear arms spending by $100 billion over the next 10 years, lashed Republicans over the appropriations bill. The House voted against several Markey amendments to the legislation that were aimed at reducing nuclear weapons and missile defense spending.

“Republicans in the House have stuffed the defense bill with billions of dollars worth of unneeded nuclear weapons programs designed to defeat the Soviet Union," Markey said in a press release. "Apparently, Republicans want to retroactively re-fight the Cold War.

“The doomsday that Americans fear in the 21st century isn’t being vaporized by a nuclear bomb, it’s the doomsday diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or cancer; it's the doomsday fear of job loss or inability to put food on the table or cool your home during this record-breaking heat," he said.

The House measures are likely to face opposition from the Democrat-led Senate, which is still preparing its version of the defense appropriations bill. The White House has also threatened to veto separate legislation that impacts its nuclear decision-making authority (see GSN, May 16; U.S. Representative Edward Markey release, July 19).

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