House GOP, Senate battle over allocation of $8.3 billion in nuclear funds

Senate aides are pushing back on a House GOP charge that the upper chamber is trying to divert $8.3 billion in nuclear weapons funds to water projects, saying such a shift is impossible.

The funding in question is needed to carry out the modernization work on America’s nuclear arsenal that is called for under the recent START nuclear weapons treaty with Russia.

In a letter to Senate appropriators, House Armed Services Strategic Forces subcommittee Chairman Mike Turner (R-Ohio) and other GOP members questioned why the Senate seems to be moving $8.3 billion in funds that former Defense Secretary Robert Gates wanted spent on the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to water projects.

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

“It appears this defense money was instead given to water-related projects such as dams, dredging, and canals,” according to the letter, sent last Thursday to Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and ranking member Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranTodd Young in talks about chairing Senate GOP campaign arm US farming cannot afford to continue to fall behind Mississippi Democrat drops Senate bid MORE (R-Miss.), as well as the chairwoman and ranking member of its Energy and Water subcommittee, Sens. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinWhite House faces growing outcry over migrant family policies Senate rejects effort to boost Congress's national security oversight Top Dems: IG report shows Comey's actions helped Trump win election MORE (D-Calif.) and Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderIBM-led coalition pushes senators for action on better tech skills training Dems seek to leverage ObamaCare fight for midterms GOP senator: DOJ's ObamaCare argument 'as far-fetched as any I've ever heard' MORE (R-Tenn.).

But Senate aides on Friday said that charge is false. They told The Hill the debt-ceiling deal passed in August places nuclear weapons modification programs into a security account and water projects into a non-security pot of money. The act stipulates that funds cannot be moved between those spending accounts, the aides said.

“There’s no way to take money from water to weapons or vice versa under the Budget Control Act,” one aide said. “There is a hard wall between those two pots of money.

“To the notion that we’re taking money away from weapons: you just cannot do that,” the aide said.

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 GOP 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 Senate aides said those numbers don’t accurately reflect their legislation.

The upper chamber’s bill proposes a $528 million increase for NNSA over the 2011 level, the aides said. For NNSA weapon programs, the bill proposes a $100 million hike over 2011 levels.

“For weapons, that is $400 million shy of what the [Obama] administration requested, but everyone is taking a haircut here,” the Senate aide said.

Those proposed spending hikes are among the largest in the Energy and Water spending measure, the Senate aides said.

The aides said senators and staffers “are looking at” whether to seek to inflate NNSA’s nuclear modification spending levels when the legislation hits the Senate floor, likely within a few weeks.