WASHINGTON – The U.S. House on Wednesday rejected an attempt to scale back spending on B61 bombs maintained at Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories, setting up a possible spending showdown with the U.S. Senate.
Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., introduced an amendment late Tuesday that would have cut $23.7 million from the proposed $551 million B61 Life Extension Program in the House Energy and Water Appropriations budget. The measure was defeated 227-196 on Wednesday, with all three of New Mexico’s U.S. House members voting against the spending cut.
In a floor speech, Quigley said the program is too expensive.
“At a time when we are slashing funds for disease research at the NIH, failing to fund our crumbling infrastructure, and underinvesting in our children’s education, we are increasing funding to keep hundreds of nuclear bombs in operation that we will never use,” Quigley said. “The Cold War is over.”
The versatile B61 bomb is carried aboard Air Force planes for a variety of missions. Its most noteworthy role is its presence in a stockpile based in Europe as part of NATO’s strategic counter to Russian nuclear and conventional forces. Officials say the bombs, built in the 1960s and ’70s, need refurbishment to extend their useful life. The B61 life-extension work is one of the largest programs for the Sandia and Los Alamos labs.
Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., said the B61 program deserved the full $551 million House budget request, especially because the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia requires reductions in the U.S. nuclear stockpile. “The B61 weapons are 30 or more years old, they are degrading and they are not as secure as they used to be,” Lamborn said, adding that cutting the $23.7 million as Quigley proposed “would be harmful to our national security.”
Meanwhile, 31 other Republicans voted for the spending cut in Quigley’s amendment.
Last month, the Senate Appropriations Committee slashed funding for the B61, approving $369 million for the work at Sandia and Los Alamos National laboratories and elsewhere, but left open the possibility that the program could draw an extra $168 million if the project proves to be on time and on budget.
Sen. Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, pressed for the additional $168 million, which was suggested in President Barack Obama’s budget request, and threatened to vote against the entire energy and water appropriations bill if it was not included.
Under the Senate bill, the additional $168 million will be contingent on B61 project managers meeting certain cost and schedule requirements. Under the Senate bill, that money could not be released unless the secretaries of energy and defense certify that the benchmarks have been met.
The full Senate has not voted on its energy and water appropriations budget yet.
Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., said he supported the full $551 million for the B61 Life Extension Program because it is a national security priority.
“This funding is important for Los Alamos and Sandia labs’ effort to ensure the safety of the nuclear weapons stockpile, and cuts to that funding impact the ability to keep it secure,” Luján said.