Senate accused of diverting nuclear funds to water projects

Legislation in the Senate would divert Pentagon funds meant to upgrade the nation’s nuclear weapons fleet to domestic water projects, according to a group of House Republicans.

In a letter to senior Senate appropriators, the lawmakers say the upper chamber seems to be moving $8.3 billion in funds that former Defense Secretary Robert Gates wanted spent over the next five years on the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to various water projects.

The lawmakers base their concerns on the Senate’s Energy and Water Appropriations bill for fiscal 2012.

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In those measures, “it appears this defense money was instead given to water-related projects such as dams, dredging, and canals,” House Armed Services Strategic Forces subcommittee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Ohio) and other GOP members wrote.

The letter, obtained by The Hill, was sent last Thursday to Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and ranking member Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranWhite House requests B for disaster relief GOP establishment doubts Bannon’s primary powers Whatever you think the Alabama special election means, you’re probably wrong MORE (R-Miss.), as well as the chairwoman and ranking member of its Energy and Water subcommittee, Sens. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinGun proposal picks up GOP support Gingrich: Banning rapid fire gun modification is ‘common sense’ House bill set to reignite debate on warrantless surveillance MORE (D-Calif.) and Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderChildren’s health-care bill faces new obstacles Overnight Health Care: Schumer calls for tying ObamaCare fix to children's health insurance | Puerto Rico's water woes worsen | Dems plead for nursing home residents' right to sue Schumer calls for attaching ObamaCare fix to children's health insurance MORE (R-Tenn.).

Rogers and the other House Republicans argue the funds are needed to carry out modernization work on America’s nuclear arsenal called for under the recent START nuclear weapons treaty with Russia.

The Senate’s energy and water spending bill “would cut funding for the [NNSA] by $706 million (6 percent) from the president’s budget request,” according to the letter.

But “funding for NNSA’s weapons activities — which directly supports modernization of the nuclear weapons arsenal and its supporting infrastructure — would be cut by $440 million (5.8 percent) under the bill,” the Republican letter states.

The GOP lawmakers express bewilderment and concern that those cuts were made after the senators pledged full funding for the modernization of the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal and support for the New START Treaty, which the Senate approved in late 2010.

Senate appropriators should stand by the New START treaty that each of the senators unequivocally endorsed in a December 2010 letter to Obama, the House Republicans wrote.

Their letter also quotes an unnamed Pentagon official as saying: “Secretary Gates was not trying to pay for water projects.”

The lawmakers argue the House also reduced funding for the NNSA in its proposal, but not as much as the Senate.

The House proposed a funding boost for domestic water projects of 4 percent above the Obama administration’s request, “while total funding for NNSA was cut by 10 [percent],” the letter said.

The GOP lawmakers acknowledge their own chamber is proposing less for nuclear arsenal upgrades than requested by the White House, and they vow to “work with our House colleagues to restore these critically needed funds.”

As Congress tussles over a final funding level for the nuclear weapons projects, Pentagon officials are examining ways to cut the costs of the lethal arsenal as they shrink the arsenal to the limits set forth in the Washington-Moscow pact.

“I think what we're looking at now is what's the most efficient, effective way to stay within those [New START] limits, but to do it in a more fiscally responsible fashion,” then-Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn said last Thursday, his final day on the job. “I think there's a lot of different proposals that may get you down [the] path of staying within the START limits, but doing it with somewhat less cost."