The full House approved a 2020 spending bill that would slow development of the next-generation, nuclear-tipped, intercontinental ballistic missile, bar deployment of a low-yield nuclear missile, and provide more money than sought to research the use of low-enriched uranium as fuel for the nuclear Navy.
The bill went through on an essentially party-line vote of 226 to 203. It fully funds almost all the nuclear modernization programs in the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense, though it would provide only $460 million or so for the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) the Pentagon wants to field in 2030 or so. That is an increase over the 2019 budget, but 20% less than the $570 million the Defense Department requested.
No lawmaker attempted to amend the bill to restore the ICBM funding. Boeing [BA] and Northrop Grumman [NOG] are in the final year of a three-year competition to design the new solid-fueled missile.
On the Department of Energy side, the House bill would limit the civilian nuclear agency’s 2020 funding to produce warheads and warhead cores — plutonium pits — for the future ICBMs. The agency’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) wanted $710 million or so for plutonium sustainment in 2020, but House appropriators approved roughly $410 million.
One change to the NNSA portion of the bill amendment squeaked through on a party-line vote as part of a package of amendments: a directive to provide $5 million more for the agency’s Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation account to continue researching the use of low-enriched uranium as fuel for nuclear-powered warships and submarines. The amendment would leave the program with $25 million in funding for 2020.
Future Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines are already planning to use high-enriched uranium, as the legacy Ohio missile submarines do.
Meanwhile, during a two-day, minibus floor debate covering the bill’s defense-nuclear programs, the House shot down one amendment that would have allowed the Navy to deploy the low-yield, submarine-launched W76-2 ballistic missile warhead, and another that would have prohibited the Pentagon from working on its proposed Long Range Standoff Weapon: the cruise missile planned to replace the 1980s-vintage Air Launched Cruise Missile in 2025.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s (D-Wash.) amendment to prohibit research in 2020 on the Long Range Standoff Weapon went down 289 to 138, with 98 Democrats joining all but one voting Republican — Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) — to defeat the amendment.
Rep. Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.), chair of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, said Jayapal’s amendment “goes too far.”
The defense part of the minibus, which includes the requested $713 million for the new cruise missile, already funds “a balanced policy” for nuclear weapons, Visclosky said Tuesday after deadline. The Indiana Democrat said the measure would constrain development of the Pentagon’s next-generation ICBMs, and prohibit deployment of the proposed W76-2 submarine-launched, low-yield warhead.
With regard to the low-yield warhead, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) offered an amendment written by Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) to provide some $19.5 million the Navy requested to deploy the weapon this year on Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarines. Democrats overwhelmingly banded together to defeat the pro-W76-2 amendment 236-192.
Three Democrats voted in favor of Cheney’s amendment to fund deployment of the low-yield warhead: Reps. Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.), Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) and Jeff Van Drew (D-N.J.). Three Republicans voted against the amendment, and therefore to keep the weapon out of submarines for at least a year: Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Warren Davidson (R-Ohio) and Massie.
The Senate Appropriations Committee, meanwhile, had yet to write any 2020 spending bills at deadline for Defense Daily. In November’s mid-term elections, the upper chamber gained Republican members, bolstering a GOP majority that in 2018 voted for all the nuclear weapons programs the House now wants to trim.
Overall, the proposed House minibus would provide about $15.8 billion for the NNSA. That is 4% less than the $16.5 billion the White House requested, but around 4.5% more than the 2019 appropriation of about $15.2 billion.