Lawmaker Challenged on U.S. Nuke Funding Assertion


A senior House lawmaker incorrectly asserted last month that the United States is set to spend $700 billion over the next decade on its nuclear arsenal and associated operations, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday (see GSN, Nov. 23).

The figure -- cited by Representative Edward Markey (D-Mass.) in an October call to cut annual nuclear weapons spending by $20 billion -- is based on an estimate by the independent Ploughshares Fund that includes the cost for activities not directly involved in nuclear weapons operations, such as missile defense and environmental reclamation (see GSN, Oct. 12).

When funds not directly related to nuclear weapons sustainment are excluded from the Ploughshares Fund's estimate, the calculation still exceeds by $134 billion an Obama administration estimate of the effort's cost provided to Congress last month.

Included in the administration's $214 billion estimate is $125 billion said to represent its "best estimate of the total costs of sustaining and modernizing the nuclear enterprise and the delivery systems from fiscal year [2012] through fiscal year [2021]." The Ploughshares Fund determined that total reached $348 billion, largely through use of a 2009 expense projection by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

In addition, the Ploughshares Fund added the administration's $125 billion figure to the group's own $348 billion sum. The maneuver might have led to "some double counting," but "those costs are going to grow” because “there is also a long history of [the Defense Department] revising its initial estimates upward,” Ploughshares Fund head Joseph Cirincione said (Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, Nov. 30).

U.S. Representative Michael Turner (R-Ohio) on Wednesday pressed Markey to “publicly repudiate and correct the inaccurate and misleading information” he cited in an Oct. 11 statement on nuclear weapons spending. The United States "spend(s) over $50 billion a year on the U.S. nuclear arsenal,” Markey said in the letter, which received endorsement from 64 other lawmakers.

“This $50 billion per year figure is incorrect -- and deeply harmful to a fully informed and accurate debate. In fact, cutting $20 billion a year from the nuclear weapons budget, as your letter calls for, would result in the immediate and unilateral nuclear disarmament of the United States,” Turner, chairman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, said in the letter. He said the actual spending level is roughly $21.4 billion annually (U.S. Representative Michael Turner release, Nov. 30).

Meanwhile, the fiscal 2012 defense authorization bill under consideration in the Senate would fully fund the Obama administration's nuclear modernization funding request, Senator Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said on Wednesday.

Still, Nelson warned, "the Budget Control Act that was passed last summer has reduced the levels that can be appropriated by some $400 million" (see GSN, Nov. 15).

"Even with this reduction it is still a 5 percent increase over last year’s levels," he said in released remarks. "I will be working with my colleagues to carefully evaluate the president’s request for fiscal year 2013 in light of the commitments both the Congress and the administration made under the New START treaty for nuclear modernization."

Fiscal 2012 began on Oct. 1. The government is currently operating on a continuing budget resolution (U.S. Senator Ben Nelson release, Nov. 30).

December 1, 2011

A senior House lawmaker incorrectly asserted last month that the United States is set to spend $700 billion over the next decade on its nuclear arsenal and associated operations, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday.