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Congress poised to shoot down Biden’s nuclear rollback

The White House wants to cancel a nuclear cruise missile, but Democrats have joined Republicans to try to save it.

Politico, By LAWRENCE UKENYE and CONNOR O’BRIEN, 07/06/2022 ,

Progressives were already disappointed with President Joe Biden’s plans for the nation’s nuclear arsenal. Now they’re poised to lose one of the few things about the White House’s blueprint that they liked.

In recent weeks, Democrats have joined Republicans in adding money back into the Pentagon budget to continue developing a sea-launched nuclear cruise missile that former President Donald Trump initiated in 2018. Biden proposed canceling the missile, which arms control advocates say is redundant, costly and potentially destabilizing……………………..

The Pentagon’s still-classified Nuclear Posture Review, which lays out a long-term roadmap for the nuclear arsenal, spurred the decision to zero out funding for the missile in Biden’s most recent budget. The public split between top civilians and military commanders amounted to a “green light” for Democrats to hedge on the program, according to Tom Collina, policy director at Ploughshares Fund.

…………………… The situation marks a retreat from the campaign pledges of then-candidate Biden, who long advocated for reducing reliance on nuclear weapons, only to turn around and dedicate tens of billions of dollars to the modernization of all three legs of the triad for two years in a row. Arms control advocates also called on him to establish a “no first use” policy and cancel two weapons added on by the Trump administration: the cruise missile and a low-yield submarine-launched missile, which has already entered the fleet.

Biden’s nuclear plans, outlined in a brief summary released in March, omit a “no first use” policy. The low-yield warhead introduced during the Trump years remains a part of the arsenal.

As for the cruise missile, now that both the House and Senate Armed Services committees have authorized funding, albeit with differing conditions, Congress will likely send Biden a compromise defense policy bill this year that foils his plan to cancel the program.

A spokesperson for the White House National Security Council said in a statement that the administration “stands by the President’s budget submission, which canceled the SLCM-N,” which refers to the sea-launched cruise missile-nuclear. The spokesperson noted the decision to kill the missile “was based on the findings and recommendations” of the Nuclear Posture Review.

Biden’s fiscal 2023 defense budget proposes spending $50.9 billion on nuclear weapons programs across the Defense and Energy Departments, while also attempting to cancel the SLCM and retire the aging inventory of B83 gravity bombs. The latter system is also in play in defense talks.

Senate Armed Services voted to place limits on the retirement of the B83 by requiring a study on striking hardened and deeply buried targets before any of the bombs could be scrapped.

Both versions of the National Defense Authorization Act greenlight $25 million for the Navy’s research and development efforts on the cruise missile and another $20 million for the National Nuclear Security Administration to continue research on the W80-4 warhead to be used on the missile. But the House version restricts a portion of the $45 million from being spent until the Navy and NNSA deliver several reports, including analyses outlining the cost of the warhead and delivery system as well as the possible limitations of the vessels that carry the missile………………………………….

The debate won’t end with the Armed Services Committees, as Congress must still appropriate money to continue the program.

Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee sided with Biden and allocated no money for the missile or its warhead in their versions of annual defense and energy spending bills. But Armed Services’ action is likely to put pressure on appropriators in their talks over a spending compromise………………….

July 7, 2022 - Posted by | politics, USA, weapons and war

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