*UPDATE (10/26): This post has been revised.
On October 19 the White House sent a memo to Congress outlining its priorities for Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 appropriations within the constraints imposed by the deal reached over the summer to raise the federal debt limit (a.k.a. the Budget Control Act). A big hat tip to Josh Rogin and the Stimson Center for posting the letter.
The administration threw its support behind the Senate Appropriations Committee-passed allocation for defense, which freezes the Pentagon base budget (not including funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) at the FY 2011 enacted level. As Stimson’s Matt Leatherman notes, “the BCA’s security cap made it difficult to increase military resources above inflation in FY12, and this newly-announced administration position makes that even less likely.”
The White House also supported the Senate’s allocation for the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Appropriations account, which is just over $6 billion below the FY 2012 request but $5 billion above the FY 2012 House enacted level.
Indeed, among the different spending bills that comprise security spending under the Budget Control Act, the House and Senate are farthest apart on the allocations for the Pentagon and the State Department (conversely, they are within $500 million of each other on the other security accounts: Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security, and NNSA). It remains to be seen when the Senate and House will come together to conference the security spending bills, but when they do, to quote Matt again, “for the most part, appropriators have created a direct trade-off in which every new dollar for defense will come from State and Foreign Operations.”
Could State and Foreign Operations also be a bill payer for NNSA weapons activities, which could be bad news given how much has already been cut from the State Department? Supporters of more money for nuclear weapons may be looking at how to use State and Foreign Operations as a potential offset, especially now that we’re hearing that the bill could be considered along with the energy and water bill (which funds NNSA) as part of a “minibus” appropriations bill on the Senate floor next week.
As I noted last week, there is also a risk that more money for weapons could be filched from from the defense nuclear nonproliferation account, an outcome which (like further cuts to the State Department) could severely undermine U.S. national security depending on which programs are cut.
Speaking of weapons and nonproliferation, the White House letter to Congress stated:
National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The Administration urges the Congress to support robust funding for NNSA to continue the commitment to modernization of the nuclear weapons complex and to upgrading the stockpile set forth in the Nuclear Posture Review and reaffirmed as part of the New START Treaty ratification process. In addition, at a time when a grave danger is posed by the proliferation of nuclear materials which can fall into the hands of terrorist organizations, the Administration urges support for highly enriched uranium reactor conversions.
While this statement is admittedly vague, I think its noteworthy for several reasons.
First, on nonproliferation, the letter appears to support the Senate Appropriations Committee-passed level for vital nuclear terrorism prevention programs (which is more or less identical to the President’s request). That said, the White House could have more vigorously defended these programs (recall that highly enriched uranium reactor conversion was not the only critical program cut by the House).
Second, on weapons activities, I didn’t detect in the letter a strong desire to increase funding for nuclear modernization above the Senate-passed level (which is $440 million below the President’s request).
The administration appears to understand that given the constraints imposed by the Budget Control Act, weapons and nonproliferation are competing for scarce resources within NNSA, meaning an appropriate balance will need to be struck. The Senate Appropriations Committee struck such a balance by making difficult choices on a bipartisan basis that protect the key non-proliferation programs and impose sensible reductions on weapons spending while still providing nearly $300 million above the FY 2011 enacted level – more than enough to maintain safe, secure, and reliable nuclear warheads.