Senators Detail Objections to Arms Treaty
G.O.P. Senators Detail Objections to Arms Treaty
By PETER BAKER
November 24, 2010
In a memorandum to his colleagues, the senator, Jon Kyl of Arizona, the No. 2 Republican in the upper chamber and his party’s point man on the treaty, called New Start, detailed his objections for the first time since declaring last week that there was not enough time to consider the treaty this year.
From the beginning, Mr. Kyl wrote, he has been clear that he “could not support reductions in U.S. nuclear forces unless there is adequate attention to modernizing those forces and the infrastructure that supports them.” The administration has committed to spend more money for that purpose, but “there remain a few substantial concerns about the adequacy of the proposed budget,” the memo said.
“Until these issues are resolved, it will be difficult to adequately assess the updated 1251 plan, despite the welcome increases in proposed spending,” the memo added, using a term referring to the modernization proposal. “And as has always been clear, assurances from the appropriate authorizers and appropriators must be obtained to ensure that the enacted budget reflects the president’s request.”
The memo, circulated privately to Republican senators on Wednesday and obtained by The New York Times, was also signed by Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, another important figure in the debate. Mr. Corker voted for New Start when it was passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in September, but now agrees with Mr. Kyl that it should not come to a floor vote during the current lame-duck session of Congress.
The White House argued that the problem predated Mr. Obama’s time in office. “We agree with Senators Kyl and Corker,” said Bob Jensen, a White House spokesman. “Modernization is needed. As the paper notes, the weapons complex was underfunded” for the five previous years. “It took several years of underfunding in the period before the president took office to get in this hole,” he said. “President Obama has a plan to get us out of it.”
Since Mr. Kyl’s statement last week, the White House has mounted a high-profile campaign to press the Senate to approve the treaty before the end of the year, making it a signal test of President Obama’s political strength at home after an election that cost his party control of the House as well as his credibility abroad as he tries to rebuild the relationship with Russia.
In an opinion article in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said that the stakes for the treaty were high. “Our uniformed military supports it,” he wrote. “Our European allies support it. Our national security interests are at stake. It is time for the Senate to approve New Start.”
The White House has been working with Mr. Kyl for months and contends that it has gone out of its way to address his concerns about modernization. It had already proposed spending $80 billion over 10 years on the nuclear complex and added $4.1 billion on Nov. 12 and a little more last week. White House officials felt blindsided by Mr. Kyl’s statement that not enough had been done to assuage him on the treaty.
In their seven-page memo on Wednesday, Mr. Kyl and Mr. Corker said they welcomed the administration’s effort, but wanted further assurances. For one thing, they wrote, the vast bulk of the original $80 billion would have been spent anyway, just “keeping the lights on” at nuclear laboratories and plants for safety, security, upkeep and routine warhead maintenance. Only $10 billion was new money for weapons activity, they wrote, a point the administration disputes. The latest administration plan, delivered Nov. 17, increased the total 10-year plan to between $85.4 billion and $86.2 billion.
Most of the new money would go to designing and building a new plutonium processing plant at the Los Alamos complex in New Mexico, and a new uranium processing plant at the Oak Ridge complex in Tennessee. The new facilities would replace buildings left over from the Manhattan Project era, when the first nuclear bombs were developed.
But while the facilities would begin partial operations by 2020, they would not be fully functional until 2023 and 2024. “Additional funding could be applied to accelerate the construction of these facilities to ensure on schedule completion,” the Republican memo said.
Moreover, the new facilities would not have the capacity to produce enough weapons for a larger arsenal should the international political situation demand a renewed buildup, the memo said. And it said the administration should be more clear about its vision for the nuclear triad, meaning the bombers, missiles and submarines that make up the nation’s nuclear force.
The White House played down the differences. “To the extent there are concerns outlined in the paper, they are about details of the plan,” Mr. Jensen said. “We can discuss those with the Congress and will continue to do so.”
The memo did not address the treaty’s merits or urge its rejection. Instead, it compared the nation’s nuclear laboratories to a rundown garage trying to maintain Ferraris that have sat in storage for 30 years: “This is the state of our nuclear deterrent today, except we’re dealing not with cars, but with the most sophisticated and dangerous weapons ever devised by man.”