Nuclear hawks and doves alike offered amendments to a 2020 spending bill up for floor debate in the House on Wednesday, including one amendment to ensure deployment of a new low-yield nuclear weapon, and another to greatly reduce civilian nuclear weapons spending.
At deadline Wednesday for Defense Daily, the full House had not yet approved a rule that would permit floor debate of these defense-nuclear amendments. The vote was slated for 5:30 p.m. and debate on amendments was slated to continue late into Wednesday night.
The amendments are part of a minibus spending package that includes defense nuclear spending in two bills: the 2020 Defense Appropriations Act, and the 2020 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) wrote the amendment to ensure the low-yield weapon, an existing submarine-launched, ballistic-missile tipped with a brand new W76-2 warhead, would be permitted aboard Ohio-class submarines in fiscal year 2020.
In their 2020 spending package, House Democrats in the chamber’s majority denied the Navy some $19.5 billion in requested 2020 funding to deploy W76-2.
Meanwhile, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) offered a pair of amendments to block work on key defense programs, including by moving $660 million in funding for Department of Energy nuclear weapons programs to the civilian agency’s nuclear nonproliferation program. The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) maintains and modernizes U.S. nuclear warheads and bombs.
Another Jayapal amendment would prohibit research on the Pentagon’s Long Range Standoff weapon: the next-generation, air-launched cruise missile the Defense Department wants to deploy beginning around 2025. The weapon would use the W80-4 warhead: a planned refurb of the W80 warhead now used on the current Air Launched Cruise Missile.
Also authorized for floor debate at deadline for Defense Daily was an amendment to authorize the Department of Energy to spend $5 million researching the use of low-enriched uranium to fuel nuclear-powered warships and submarines. Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) sponsored the amendment, along with Reps. Bill Foster (D-Ill.) — Congress’ only physicist — John Garamendi (D-Calif.) and Rick Larsen (D-Wash).
Some advocates for nuclear nonproliferation — keeping nuclear weapons and materials out of the hands of bad actors — support transitioning the nuclear navy to low-enriched uranium from the current high-enriched uranium fuel.
The Navy supports high-enriched uranium fuel because it is more energy dense and allows ships to stay at sea longer, and come off duty for refueling less often.
Broadly, the proposed House minibus 2020 minibus spending bill would fund most nuclear modernization programs at the requested level. The big exception is the next generation, nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile called Ground Based Strategic Deterrent. The Defense Department wants to deploy that weapon beginning in 2030 or so. The minibus would slow procurement of the new missiles by providing around $460 million for the program in fiscal 2020: 20% lower than requested but more than 10% above the 2019 budget.
The proposed House minibus also would limit funding to produce the NNSA-made warheads and warhead cores, or plutonium pits, for the future Ground Based Strategic Deterrent missiles.
The proposed minibus also would prohibit deployment of the W76-2 low-yield warhead, nix a proposed study on a future low-yield, sea-launched cruise missile, and decline to provide the NNSA with funding to keep the megaton-class B83 nuclear gravity bomb in war-ready shape into the 2020s.
The Senate Armed Services Committee had yet to draft an energy and water or defense appropriations act at deadline Wednesday.