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Obama Inks Defense Spending Legislation

By Diane Barnes

Global Security Newswire

President Obama, shown on Monday, on Wednesday signed defense legislation that authorizes funding for a new nuclear arms laboratory at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster). President Obama, shown on Monday, on Wednesday signed defense legislation that authorizes funding for a new nuclear arms laboratory at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster).

WASHINGTON -- President Obama on Wednesday signed off on a 14-year deadline for completing a controversial nuclear arms laboratory and storage site, despite a previous push by his administration to postpone the project at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

The structure -- a planned component of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project -- is required to become fully operational by the end of 2026 under the newly inked fiscal 2013 defense authorization law. The legislation permits up to $70 million in new funds for the building's construction in the budget year that runs through Sept. 30, and it makes available $120 million in money previously appropriated for the project.

The bill establishes a $3.7 billion spending cap for the structure, which is intended to assume the responsibilities of a decades-old plutonium facility at Los Alamos. The text would require the Energy Department to give lawmakers a "detailed justification" for any projected CMRR spending in excess of the threshold.

Obama took issue with several elements of the legislation, but said "the need to renew critical defense authorities and funding was too great to ignore."

The bill contains "deeply problematic" restrictions on implementing a bilateral strategic arms control treaty with Russia, the president wrote in a statement.  The section in question requires various presidential certifications to Congress focusing on funding, management and modernization of strategic delivery systems. Republicans have criticized the administration for failing to follow through on nuclear funding pledges made during the push for Senate ratification of the accord.

Obama, though, noted that language to "adequately amend" the New START pact provisions is contained in separate legislation to address the budgetary "fiscal cliff," The president also signed the latter bill into law on Wednesday.

The defense authorization law establishes ceilings of $527.5 billion for base Defense Department spending, $88.5 billion for overseas operations and $17.4 billion for defense-related nuclear programs overseen by the Energy Department. It bars further appropriations for the Medium Extended Air Defense System, despite an administration request for continued funding of the multinational antimissile program through fiscal 2013.

The text calls for a special congressional panel to examine options for altering the management of U.S. nuclear weapons operations, which are now overseen by the Energy Department's semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration. A number of GOP lawmakers previously pushed to limit DOE involvement in the nuclear arms complex, arguing the restrictions could relieve schedule and budget overruns experienced by NNSA projects.

A group of House Republicans failed to win approval under the legislation to fund construction of an East Coast ballistic missile defense interceptor installation. Still, the text mandates a Pentagon review of at least three possible new sites, including no fewer than two locations in the eastern United States. Long-range interceptors are currently deployed in California and Alaska.

The measure establishes Iran's energy, port, shipping and shipbuilding industries as “entities of proliferation concern,” paving the way for possible new sanctions targeting those areas.

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