Panetta Opposes "Any Reductions" to Nuclear Complex Modernization Budget

(Oct. 13) -U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, shown testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday, defended the Obama administration's planned nuclear complex modernization budget following some congressional calls for substantial reductions (AP Photo/Cliff Owen).
(Oct. 13) -U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, shown testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday, defended the Obama administration's planned nuclear complex modernization budget following some congressional calls for substantial reductions (AP Photo/Cliff Owen).

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday testified on Capitol Hill that he opposes "any reductions" to President Obama's budget for nuclear warhead and infrastructure modernization, despite some pending legislative proposals to raid perhaps billions of dollars in coming years to help pay for other projects or reduce the federal deficit (see GSN, Oct. 12).

"This is too important," he told the House Armed Services Committee during a hearing on U.S. defense requirements 10 years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. "We have always been at the cutting edge of this technology and we have to stay there."

Representative Michael Turner (R-Ohio), chairman of the panel's Strategic Forces Subcommittee, asked the Defense secretary to respond to recent action by the Senate and House Appropriations committees to reduce Energy Department funds for warhead modernization and nuclear-sector infrastructure improvements.

He noted that Panetta's predecessor at the Pentagon, Robert Gates, had transferred $8.3 billion in five-year budget authority for nuclear arms efforts to the Energy Department, only to see appropriations panels shift some of the fiscal 2012 monies to unrelated local water projects.

"In effect, your funds are being stolen for water projects across the country," Turner said. "And I think you might have an opinion about that.”

"Well, as a former [House] member, I know in those committees, they’re going to reach for whatever they can in order to try to see if they can fund those projects," Panetta responded. "I understand that process. But I think it’s tremendously shortsighted if they reduce the funds that are absolutely essential for modernization."

He added: "If we aren’t staying ahead of it, we jeopardize the security of this country. So, for that reason, I certainly would oppose any reductions with regards to the funding for weaponization."

The Obama administration, in pursuing GOP support last year for the U.S.-Russian New START arms control deal, pledged to allocate $85 billion over 10 years for modernizing the nation's nuclear weapons complex (Elaine M. Grossman, Global Security Newswire).

Turner on Wednesday called out four senators for their recent votes to reduce funding for the complex (see GSN, Sept. 8).

The Ohio Republican and eight other House GOP lawmakers were responding to the vote last month by the Senate Appropriations Committee to reduce an Obama administration funding request for the National Nuclear Security Administration's fiscal 2012 budget for weapons maintenance. The White House had sought $7.6 billion for NNSA weapons work, but the Senate committee approved only $7.19 billion.

The House lawmakers noted in a letter that while the senators had failed to meet the administration's nuclear weapons request in the fiscal 2012 Energy and Water Appropriations bill, they had seen fit to increase the amount of funding requested by the White House for water initiatives.

"These cuts are particularly disturbing because former Secretary of Defense Gates transferred $8.3 billion in top-line budget authority from the Department of Defense to NNSA over five years," the letter states. "As an off-the-record senior Defense official recently said, 'Secretary Gates wasn’t trying to pay for water projects."

The letter was addressed to Senators Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) The four senators last December wrote to President Obama and gave him their support for ratification of the New START deal as well as "full funding for the modernization of our nuclear weapons arsenal."

The House lawmakers ended their letter by saying, "We respectfully request that you stand by the nuclear modernization commitment made by the president and the Senate during New START ratification -- and unequivocally endorsed by each of you in your December letter" (Rachel Oswald, Global Security Newswire).

October 13, 2011
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U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday testified on Capitol Hill that he opposes "any reductions" to President Obama's budget for nuclear warhead and infrastructure modernization, despite some pending legislative proposals to raid perhaps billions of dollars in coming years to help pay for other projects or reduce the federal deficit (see GSN, Oct. 12).