- Nuclear Weapons
House and Senate Head for a Showdown on Nuclear Policy
The Trump administration has been taking the U.S. down a dangerous course by seeking new nuclear weapons. Congress can change our country’s direction, but a stark divide has emerged between the two chambers through the fiscal year 2020 appropriations process: While the House rejected several of the administration’s calls for nuclear weapons funding increases, the Senate plans to fully fund—and in some cases exceed—the administration’s requests.
That much was made clear on Sept. 12, when the Senate Appropriations Committee approved two spending bills for fiscal year 2020 that would boost U.S. nuclear capabilities. The Department of Defense appropriations bill, which funds the Pentagon, was passed by a party line vote, with all Republicans in favor and all Democrats opposed. The Energy-Water appropriations bill, which contains funding for nuclear warheads, won unanimous approval.
The Senate is running behind the House, which passed its related appropriations bills in June. As expected, the Senate-advanced bills matched the $738 billion Pentagon and nuclear weapons funding top-line set by the July budget deal between Congress and President Trump.
The budget deal sets overall spending levels, but it does not determine the break-down for specific weapons systems and military programs. And there are significant differences between the House and Senate versions with respect to budget and policy priorities:
- While the House proposed subtracting $108 million from the Pentagon’s $570.4 million request for a replacement intercontinental ballistic missile—the so-called "Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD)"—the Senate committee backed an additional $65 million beyond the administration’s request.
- While the House would cut funding for the amount needed to deploy a dangerous new so-called "low-yield" W76-2 nuclear warhead for U.S. submarine-launched ballistic missiles, the Senate bill would fully fund the administration’s request.
- While the House bill would cut funding for ground-launched missiles sought by the Trump administration following U.S. withdrawal from the Intermediate-Forces Nuclear (INF) Treaty, the Senate bill would allow the missiles to go forward. The committee defeated an amendment by Senator Jeff Merkley (OR) to bar procurement or deployment of the missiles until foreign partners agree to host such missiles and the Pentagon supplies a cost analysis of alternatives.
- While the House bill would more than halve the administration’s request for an upgraded W87-1 nuclear ICBM warhead (a $59 million cut), the Senate would grant the full request.
The Senate committee also narrowly defeated another amendment (14-17) from Senators Merkley and Van Hollen (MD) that would have cut $22 million for retention of the B83 gravity bomb. The B83 is the last megaton-sized weapon in the U.S. nuclear arsenal and the Obama administration had proposed to retire it.
What will happen next is unclear. Democrats vow not to support the Pentagon spending bill unless it prevents funds from being transferred to build a southern border wall. Republicans may not have enough votes to overcome a potential Democratic filibuster of the bill. And there is no Senate agreement yet on the spending levels for domestic appropriations bills. Stay tuned for more information and opportunities to make your voice heard.