Playing with House Rules on New START

, Washington representative and senior analyst | December 8, 2010, 9:52 am EDT
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Last December, Senator Jon Kyl and 40 other Senators sent a letter to President Obama linking proposed reductions in New START to nuclear modernization, stating “we don’t believe further reductions can be in the national security interest of the U.S. in the absence of a significant program to modernize our nuclear deterrent.”

The Obama administration provided such a program, in spades. In February, it released an FY11 budget with large increases for nuclear weapons. In March, together with the New START agreement, it provided Congress with a 10-year plan for the nuclear weapons complex and stockpile, spelling out more budget increases.

But this wasn’t enough for some Senators. They sought more money and more commitments. For example, in August Sen. Kyl sent another letter, specifying a number of specific shortfalls in funding for the weapons complex. The Obama administration came in with a revised 10-year plan, with even more budget increases.

The only question seemed to be, would any amount of money be enough to satisfy treaty critics?

But now it emerges that there is another question. If advice and consent of New START is dependent on increased funding, does that mean increased funding is dependent on advice and consent of New START?

The House is at least considering saying the answer to that question is yes. A draft version of the House Continuing Resolution for FY11 makes increases for nuclear weapons funding contingent upon Senate ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). Here is the language:

SEC. 2412. Notwithstanding section 1101, the level for ‘‘Atomic Energy Defense Activities—National Nuclear Security Administration—Weapons Activities’’ shall be $7,008,835,000: Provided, That $624,000,000 of such amount shall be available only upon the Senate giving its advice and consent to the ratification of the Treaty between the United States of America and the Russian Federation on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (commonly known as the ‘‘New START Treaty’’).

This would mean that nuclear modernization and arms control are connected in both directions. If New START is not ratified, it will destroy the fragile political consensus in support of nuclear modernization. Last week, this point was eloquently made in a floor speech by Senator Franken. It was also expressed in a September op-ed by former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and former Republican Senator Jake Garn. They stated, “The treaty provides a vehicle whereby some Democrats not usually known for their support of strategic systems can bring themselves to commit to modernization, while at the same time some Republicans not usually known for their support for arms control can bring themselves to vote for ratification. Conversely, rejecting the treaty may well break this consensus and result in no modernization of our forces.”

One other point is worth noting: some have said the House should not do this because New START is solely the prerogative of the Senate. There is some validity to that point, but it only goes so far. As long as Senators insist that international treaties such as New START are contingent upon appropriators increasing budgets for certain projects, both the House and Senate will weigh in – it is just a matter of how directly they will do so.

Addendum: The Obama administration has come out in opposition to the proposed House language, with Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy James Miller saying “The Administration’s strong view is that the treaty makes sense on its own merits, and the Administration’s strong view is that additional funding for NNSA makes sense on its own merits. So no, we don’t support that linkage.”  A vote on the House CR could come as soon as today (December 8), while the Senate will soon try to pass an omnibus spending bill and fall back to a CR if that efforts fails.

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