A House appropriations panel on Monday followed through with its promise not to grant a $3-plus-billion budget request for civilian nuclear weapons programs as part of a 2021 spending bill that would also forbid preparation for a nuclear yield-test, limit Pentagon influence on DoE budgets, and potentially slow development of a proposed new Navy warhead.

For active nuclear weapons programs, managed by the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the House Appropriations energy and water subcommittee proposed about $18 billion in funding: Some $1.3 billion above the 2020 budget of $16.7 billion, but well short of the nearly $20 billion the semiautonomous weapons agency sought.

On the other hand, the House Appropriations energy and water subcommittee’s 2021 energy and water spending bill would keep the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management about flat year over year at just under $7.5 billion: nearly $1 billion more than the White House requested for cleanup of shuttered Manhattan Project and Cold War nuclear-weapons production sites.

The House panel is scheduled to mark up its bill Tuesday. Subcommittee markups are usually brief and noncontroversial, and without much debate on amendments. Big debates usually wait until the full Appropriations Committee markup, which was not scheduled at deadline Monday for Defense Daily. Media had reported the full committee markup could happen as soon as Friday.

The House subcommittee released its bill text less than a week after the House Armed Services Committee, in its version of the National Defense Authorization Act, authorized the NNSA to spend all $19.8 billion or so the agency requested. Authorization bills set spending limits and policy, but appropriations bills actually provide the money.

Lawmakers traditionally frown on using appropriations bills for policy statements, but lawmakers of both sides often flex the power of the purse to ensure agencies spend as congressional majorities prefer. 

For example, the House panel’s draft spending bill would if signed into law forbid DoE from spending 2021 funds to work with the joint DoD-DoE “Nuclear Weapons Council to guide, advise, assist, develop, or execute a budget for the National Nuclear Security Administration.” It would also forbid using the 2021 budget to prepare for a yield-bearing nuclear weapon test. House and Senate Armed Services Committees this year approved the NNSA to do both of those things.

The bill also could also attach some strings to early development of the next-generation W93 warhead: a weapon authorized by the 2021 National Defense Authorization Acts passed by House and Senate Armed Services Committees, and which would pair a previously tested nuclear-explosive design with a new aeroshell to create, in the decades to come, a replacement for both the current W76 and W88 warheads used today aboard U.S. ballistic-missile submarines.

Under the panel’s draft House spending bill, the text of which does not mention W93 by name, the Secretary of Energy could only spend 2021 appropriations on new nuclear weapon designs, or modifications, by first providing Congress with “a preliminary cost range” for the program, plus a “detailed justification and information about the assumptions underlying such an action.” The prohibition would even apply to even studies about new designs or modifications, according to the bill.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), the chair of the energy and water subcommittee, has said since the 2021 appropriations process started in March that a $20 billion budget would “choke” the NNSA, which Kaptur said has $8 billion in unspent appropriations sitting around.

NNSA Administrator Lisa Gordon-Hagerty told Kaptur in open testimony before the subcommittee this year that the unspent appropriations are already earmarked for ongoing weapons modernization and construction programs, plus international nonproliferation programs, but Kaptur said that only proves that the NNSA cannot even spend the money Congress gives it efficiently.

“[T]he fact that they’re a little bit behind tells us that, again, we can’t choke them with money that’ll just sit there,” Kaptur told reporters in March. “We have to develop a budget that can be realistically accomplished in the nuclear modernization.”