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Nuke Spending Plan Could Suffer Under Debt Deal

(Aug. 3) -Nuclear weapons programs at the Sandia National Laboratories, shown above, and another  laboratory complex in New Mexico could face funding cuts under the federal debt agreement signed into law on Tuesday (U.S. Sandia National Laboratories photo). (Aug. 3) -Nuclear weapons programs at the Sandia National Laboratories, shown above, and another laboratory complex in New Mexico could face funding cuts under the federal debt agreement signed into law on Tuesday (U.S. Sandia National Laboratories photo).

An Obama administration proposal to dramatically increase nuclear weapons funding in coming years has little chance of proceeding under a newly negotiated deal to raise the federal debt ceiling, lawmakers and independent specialists said on Monday (see GSN, July 25).

The deal enacted on Tuesday calls for relatively small reductions over the next 12 months, but it would require $350 billion in military-related funding cuts over the next decade, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

With the agreement in force, President Obama and his successors will have difficulty adhering to the 10-year, $85 billion nuclear weapons complex spending plan unveiled by the White House in November, said Kingston Reif, an expert with the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation. In addition, failure to enact additional budget reductions to be negotiated by a special congressional panel would result in further major cuts to defense spending, which the deal defines to include the Energy Department agency responsible for overseeing the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.

“This means some tough choices are ahead for [the National Nuclear Security Administration],” Reif said.

It is still uncertain whether the debt agreement will affect spending at the Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories in New Mexico, but programs at both sites would benefit significantly under Obama's nuclear weapons spending proposal, said Baker Spring, a national security policy research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation. Between $3.7 billion and $5.8 billion is set to be allocated for a new plutonium laboratory at the Los Alamos site (see GSN, May 25), while the Sandia laboratory would receive additional funds for updating B-61 nuclear weapons (see GSN, June 16).

The potential secondary defense cuts that might be triggered under the deal would be “very damaging,” Spring added.

Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) said those possible additional reductions "could result in significant cuts at both our defense installations and our laboratories if this committee called for in the legislation is not able to come up with a deficit reduction package that can be passed and get signed."

The debt deal's terms might thwart plans to construct both the Los Alamos plutonium facility and a highly enriched uranium processing center at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee, Reif said (see GSN; July 8; Fleck/Coleman, Albuquerque Journal, Aug. 2).

Note to our Readers

GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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