Amidst the hubbub surrounding Reagan's departure, the chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water, Rep. David Hobson (R-Ohio) announced today his markup of the 2005 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill.
What is remarkable about this is that this Republican committee chair issued a stunning rebuke to the administration, completely cancelling all the funds Bush et al had requested for new nuclear weapons programs.
Within the Weapons Activities account, the Committee provides no funds for advanced concepts research, the robust nuclear earth penetrator (RNEP) study, the modern pit facility, and enhanced test readiness, but provides significant increases for nuclear warhead dismantlement and for security upgrades across the complex.
The total of the funding Bush requested was not huge: $28 million for RNEP, $29 million for the modern pit facility, $9 million for "advanced concepts", and $30 million for enhanced test readiness.
Beneath the bureaucratic labels, however, lurks a really frightening agenda that has largely eluded media coverage or pulic debate.
"Advanced concepts" is a polite name for what are elsewhere referred to as "mini-nukes," or nuclear weapons with a yield less than 5 kilotons. Congress banned research and development of these weapons in 1992 because it felt they blurred the line between conventional and nuclear war. Along with the "mini-nukes" RNEP fits in the administration's ambitions to develop "more useable" nuclear weapons in order to strengthen our defense posture. There has been a quiet feud between uniformed military on one side, and civilian Pentagon and lab scientists on the other, over the desireability of these weapons. The modern pit facility would be designed to build up to 900 plutonium pits per year. Plutonium pits are the central component of nuclear warheads. Current pit production capacity is believed to be sufficient to meet the needs of maintaining the existing nuclear stockpile. Finally, advanced test readiness means money to speed up the amount of prep time necessary to resume underground nuclear testing. Bush's father instituted a moratorium on underground testing in 1992, and Clinton signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996. Connect the dots and you get a disturbing picture.
Earlier this month, the House Armed Services Committee passed the 2005 Defense Authorization Bill, authorizing the administration's entire request for these programs (for info on the authorization/appropriations distinction try here). The House Rules Committee ruled out of order virtually all Democratic amendments to the bill, but there was a vote on an amendment offered by Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) to redirect RNEP and advanced concept funds to intelligence and conventional weapons. It lost 204-214 (to see who voted how, try here)
The Senate Armed Services Committee will take up their 2005 Defense Authorization Bill next week, and among the amendments they will consider is one fron Senators Feinstein and Kennedy cutting funding for RNEP and advanced concepts (more on that later).
It remains to be seen what will happen. It is quite possible that efforts will be made to restore the funding in the subcommittee, the full Appropriations committee, or in the floor debate on Energy and Water Appropriations, although it would be a pretty significant breach of protocol for a Republican to challenge the authority of a committee chair from his or her own party.
In either case, the administration's dangerous foreign policy has been dealt a significant setback today, and it is all the sweeter since it came at the hands of his own party.