Congress drops atomic bomb plan from bill
WASHINGTON – Congress has eliminated the financing of research supported by President Bush into a new generation of nuclear weapons, including investigations into low-yield atomic bombs and an earth-penetrating warhead that could destroy weapons bunkers deep underground.
The Bush administration called in 2002 for exploring new nuclear weapons that could deter a wide range of threats, including possible development of a warhead that could go after hardened, deeply buried targets, or lower-power bombs that could destroy chemical or biological stockpiles without contaminating a wide geographic area.
But research on those programs was dropped from the $388-billion, governmentwide spending bill adopted Saturday, a rare instance in which the Republican-controlled Congress has gone against the president, a move that slowly came to light over the weekend as details of the massive measure became clear.
Dropping the programs was praised by arms control advocates and some members of Congress who tried unsuccessfully for several years to kill them. These opponents argued that such research by the United States could trigger a new arms race, and that the existence of lower-yield weapons – sometimes called “mini-nukes” – would ultimately increase the likelihood of war.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., described Saturday’s result as “a consequential victory for those of us who believe the United States sends the wrong signal to the rest of the world by reopening the nuclear door.”
The president’s fiscal 2005 budget contained $27 million to continue research on modifying two existing warheads for the earth penetrator, or bunker-buster role, and projected nearly $500 million over the next five years should a weapon be approved.
While Feinstein and other Democrats had failed earlier this year to bar authorization of the program, it was a Republican, Rep. David Hobson of Ohio, who led the successful effort to keep the programs out of the omnibus appropriations bill adopted Saturday. Hobson, chairman of the House Appropriations energy and water development subcommittee, oversaw dropping the money from an appropriations bill in June, and House-Senate conferees accepted that action in Saturday’s bill.
The Bush administration, Hobson said Monday, “should read this as a clear signal from Congress” that any attempt to revive the funding in next year’s budget “would get the same reaction.”
He said he hadn’t heard any threat of a veto and “nobody has come to me and said we can’t have this.”
The action caught the administration by surprise. A spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration, which runs the nuclear weapons programs and the national nuclear laboratories, said the matter was under study.