The Cable

House funding bill cuts $1 billion from nuclear security and nonproliferation

The House GOP funding bill currently under debate would slash over $1 billion from the government agencies that work to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of rogue states and terrorists -- money that Senate Republicans fought to increase only last fall during the debate over the New START treaty with Russia.

The continuing resolution (CR) that the House is expected to pass this week would reduce the administration's $11.2 billion request for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) by $1.1 billion, or 10 percent. The NNSA maintains the nation's nuclear stockpile, runs the nuclear lab complex, and fights the illegal trade of nuclear technology and material. Non-proliferation programs face the most drastic reductions.

Ironically, Senate Republicans spent much of last year pressing the Obama administration over new increases in NNSA spending on nuclear modernization. Led by Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), the GOP successfully convinced Obama to pledge $85 billion over 10 years to modernize the nuclear stockpile as part of the deal to ratify New START. Kyl ultimately voted no on the treaty.

The House GOP funding proposal has angered non-proliferation advocates. "House Republicans are being penny wise and pound foolish," said John Isaacs, executive director of the Council for a Livable World.

The House leadership has exempted "security" spending from their proposed cuts in the bill, but the NNSA is part of the Energy Department and so falls outside of the GOP's definition.

"Part of the problem is the indiscriminate budget cutting by House Republicans that reduces all programs except those strictly labeled defense, even though they are hacking away at the most useful federal program to prevent the gravest threat to the United States, nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists," Isaacs said.

When the House sends the bill over to the Senate next week, Senate Republicans will push to restore the NNSA funding, multiple congressional aides close to the process told The Cable.

"The House GOP wasn't a part of any of the START-modernization discussions and there hasn't been time to get them up to speed," said one senior GOP Senate aide, who also blamed the Democrats for failing to complete any FY 2011 spending bill before last November's elections.

The House GOP proposal would cut $647 million, or 24 percent, from the $2.7 billion request for NNSA's nuclear nonproliferation activities; would cut $312 million, or 4.5 percent, from the $7 billion request for its weapons activities; and would cut $103 million, or 10 percent, of the $1.1 billion request for NNSA's naval nuclear reactor program.

The cuts in the non-proliferation budget would delay Obama's initiative to secure all vulnerable nuclear material in four years, which was the focus of the 44-nation Nuclear Security Summit he hosted in Washington last April, a senior administration official told The Cable.

On Feb. 14, President Obama requested $11.78 billion for NNSA in fiscal 2012, an increase of 5.1 percent from the $11.2 billion requested for fiscal 2011. NNSA Administrator Thomas D'Agostino defended that increase in a speech at the annual meeting of the Energy Communities Alliance annual meeting on Thursday.

"Despite the economic challenges facing our nation and the budget pressures being felt throughout the federal government, the president demonstrated his commitment to our mission by proposing an unprecedented investment in ensuring the nuclear security of our country and our allies," he said. "That investment is a reflection of his vision for our nation, and of the critical role we play."

The Cable

Senior House Democrat: The era of supporting autocrats is over

As protests rage in Bahrain and Libya, the U.S. government's stance toward democracy in the Arab world is evolving, even in Congress. On Wednesday, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee said that the United States must abandon its decades-old habit of supporting autocrats.

"The old days of ‘as long as we can make a positive relationship with the autocrat who's running the place, then we are friends with the country' are dead and gone," Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) told a group of reporters over breakfast on Wednesday.

"We have to be much more interested in trying to get the actual populations in those countries to be supportive of us," Smith said. "What we have to start thinking about in the foreign policy establishment is what shifts in our foreign policy do we need to make to target the populations."

Smith said that over the last decades, the U.S. policy of supporting regimes that abused power turned many Arabs against the United States and bolstered often violent opposition movements, some of which could now be poised to take power.

"It was a long term bad strategy... We were winning the battle but losing the war," Smith said. "There's a reason we opted in the past for the ‘Let's just make friends with the autocrat' approach. It's much easier."

But Smith, who represents the district where the U.S. Army base of Fort Lewis is located, defended military aid to countries including Jordan, Pakistan, and Israel as useful tools of American influence.

Smith also said that military aid to Cairo must continue while the Egyptian military undertakes the process of reform. "Where Egypt is concerned, it's going to depend on what their government ultimately looks like," Smith said. "Right now, today? Yes."

Smith admitted the difficulty of supporting popular Arab movements while also defending U.S. interests, laying out several concerns he had about the largest and most organized Egyptian opposition group -- the Muslim Brotherhood.

"One of the things to understand about [the Muslim Brotherhood's approach in Egypt... their ultimate goals haven't changed," Smith said. "I don't think the people of Egypt want to trade one totalitarian group for another... we have a definite interest in making sure that doesn't happen."