WASHINGTON – The Republican-controlled House of Representatives on Friday approved a number of amendments to fiscal 2013 defense authorization legislation that would restrict the President Obama’s ability to make nuclear arms reductions (see GSN, May 16).
The votes came even as the White House this week indicated that the version of the bill approved by the House Armed Services Committee already placed too many limitations in this area and would likely be vetoed if the provisions make it to Obama’s desk.
Lawmakers on Friday afternoon approved the full bill by a vote of 299-120 after debating more than 140 proposed amendments since the previous day. The legislation can set policy and allows for spending on a host of military operations but does not actually appropriate funds.
The version of the bill approved by the House Armed Services Committee authorizes $554 billion in base defense spending, more than the $551 billion requested by the Obama administration. In a statement issued on Tuesday, the White House said the committee’s bill “would violate the Budget Control Act of 2011, the bipartisan agreement reached between the Congress and the President to put the nation on a sustainable fiscal course.”
The legislation will ultimately have to be meshed with the Senate version of the defense authorization bill, which the upper chamber’s Armed Service Committee is expected to take up next week.
In a 238-162 vote on Friday, the House approved an amendment offered by Representatives Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) and Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) that puts limits on the administration’s ability to make nuclear arms reductions called for in the New START treaty with Russia. The amendment bans “any reductions to the strategic nuclear triad unless the secretary of Defense certifies that … further reductions in the Russia Federation’s arsenal are needed for compliance with New START limits” and that “Russia is not developing or deploying nuclear delivery systems not covered by New START limits,” according to a summary of the amendment.
New START, which entered into force last year, requires both nations by 2018 to draw down their deployed strategic nuclear arsenals to 1,550 warheads and 700 delivery systems.
Speaking in support of the amendment on the House floor Friday morning, Lummis said “New START is a terrible deal for the U.S.” She argued the treaty effectively caps existing levels of nuclear weapons possessed by the United States while allowing Russia to construct new armaments. Moscow, as of March 1, was already more than 50 warheads under the maximum cap.
As it was, the White House was complaining that the bill already put too many restrictions on the president’s ability to comply with the treaty prior to the amendment being adopted. In its Tuesday statement, the White House said sections of the act “would set onerous conditions on the administration’s ability to implement the treaty” as well as “onerous conditions on the president’s ability to retire, dismantle or eliminate nondeployed nuclear weapons.”
According to the statement, if “the final bill presented to the president includes these provisions, the president’s senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill.”
Nonetheless, the House also approved other amendments that would place similar restrictions on the president, including a measure offered by Representative Tom Price (R-Ga.) that prohibits Obama “from making unilateral reductions to U.S. nuclear forces,” according to a summary of the provision.
By a vote of 244-181 the House also approved an amendment offered by Representative Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) that limits “the availability of funds for Cooperative Threat Reduction activities with Russia until the secretary of Defense can certify that Russia is no longer supporting the Syrian regime and is not providing to Syria, North Korea or Iran any equipment or technology that contributes to the development of weapons of mass destruction.”
Washington for two decades has worked through the CTR program to eliminate and secure nuclear arms and other WMD materials in Russia and other former Soviet states.
On Thursday, the House rejected an attempt by Democrats to strip a controversial mandate for a new missile defense site on the East Coast from the defense authorization bill. The mandate was also among the list of items in the bill to which the White House objected.
Silo-based interceptors deployed at two existing GMD installations in Alaska and California are intended to provide the primary homeland defense against potential enemy ballistic missile attacks.
Section 223 of the authorization bill approved by the House Armed Services Committee would mandate laying the groundwork for a third such site on the East Coast, the White House noted on Tuesday. The legislation would provide $100 million for the Defense Department to examine three locations that could become a third interceptor site under the GMD system. The Pentagon would have until the close of 2015 to establish the installation.
“Section 223, which would require a missile defense site on the East Coast of the United States, is premature because the administration has not identified a requirement for a third U.S.-based missile defense site, nor assessed the feasibility or cost in a cost-constrained environment,” the White House said. “This section would also mandate the inclusion of a plan to deploy an appropriate missile defense interceptor for such a site in the budget request for FY 2013, an unwarranted intrusion on executive branch decision making.”
An amendment to the bill sponsored by Representatives Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) would have reduced the funding authorized by the legislation by $403 million, “with the amount of the reduction to be derived from Ballistic Missile Defense Midcourse Defense Segment … East Coast site planning and development” and other related programs. The reduction would have left total authorized funding for the GMD program at $857 million, down from $1.2 billion.
Speaking in support of his amendment on the House floor Thursday evening, Polis referenced the multiple test failures of the Ground-Based Interceptors. The system technology to date has delivered eight successful intercepts in 15 flight tests.
A “missile defense system program that rarely hits anything” is a “good place to achieve taxpayer savings,” according to the lawmaker. He also noted that a Government Accountability Office had determined that funding for an East Coast facility was premature.
“Missile defense that can’t defend against missiles is no defense at all,” Polis said.
Representative Michael Turner (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, countered that the first generation of the silo-based interceptor, known as the Capability Enhancement 1, was successful in three out of three tests. He argued that the amendment was one of several Democratic measures on the bill that were “targeted at weakening our national defense system.”
The House also defeated an attempt by Representatives Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.) to delay by 10 years the development of a new long range nuclear-capable bomber, which would have reduced the total authorized spending level by $291 million.
“We’re $15 trillion in debt, we don’t need a new nuclear bomber,” said Markey in support of the amendment. He argued that existing bombers, such as the aging B-52, are slated to remain in service for several decades and that a single nuclear-armed submarine has the capability to destroy 96 enemy cities.
“We don’t even have any more targets to bomb,” Markey said, arguing that the funds should be spent on things such as Medicare, Social Security and research on debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. “The fear that people have is not that they are going to be in a nuclear war,” Markey said. “They fear the call that there is another person with Alzheimer’s in their family – that’s the real fear that people have in their lives.”
WASHINGTON -- The Republican-controlled House of Representatives on Friday approved a number of amendments to fiscal 2013 defense authorization legislation that would restrict the President Obama’s ability to make nuclear arms reductions.