GOP protests idea of steep nuclear cuts

House Republicans said Wednesday they are opposed to plans to cut the nation’s nuclear arsenal by as much as 80 percent, one of a number of options the Obama administration is considering in a review of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) said that he considered reducing the nuclear force by 80 percent “reckless lunacy.”

“There are many of us that are going to do everything we possibly can to make sure that this preposterous notion does not gain any real traction,” Franks said at a Wednesday budget hearing with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey.

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Panetta said that the review being undertaken was mandated by a past year’s Defense Authorization Act, and the Pentagon wanted a range of options on the table.

“I obviously share your concern that we have to do everything possible to protect our homeland,” Panetta said to Franks. “And for that reason we maintain the full nuclear deterrent here and the triad.”

Dempsey said that one of the options being considered is to maintain the status quo. He said the review was a comprehensive one that went beyond the media report and was connected to future U.S. nuclear negotiating strategies with Russia.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the administration is considering several options for lowering the U.S. nuclear arsenal below the 1,550 level that was agreed to in the New START treaty with Russia, from 1,000 to as low as 300. The current U.S. nuclear arsenal is at about 1,800.

President Obama campaigned on a promise to reduce nuclear weapons, and the new military strategy he announced last month at the Pentagon included a reduction in the nuclear stockpile.

Republicans warned that cutting the U.S. nuclear arsenal below 1,000 could encourage proliferation elsewhere.

“It seems to me if we end up with 500 nuclear weapons and Country A has a couple hundred, that all the incentive in the world is for them to catch us, because it's not that far and not that hard for them to do,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas). “It does nothing but encourage our enemies and discourage our friends.”