Domenici Pushes His Nuke Budget

By John Fleck
Journal Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., tried Tuesday to plug leaks in the U.S. nuclear weapons budget created by House Republicans bent on restructuring the weapons program.

Domenici's spending plan, unveiled Tuesday in skeleton form, attempts to reinstate money the House of Representatives wants to cut from weapons research, development and refurbishment.

Domenici's version of the budget, which goes to the full Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday, sets up yet another showdown between the veteran New Mexico legislator and Rep. David Hobson, R-Ohio.

Hobson, chairman of the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, wants U.S. nuclear weapons redesigned so the arsenal is cheaper in the long run.

Domenici's version of the budget supports Hobson's quest for more money to begin redesigning U.S. nuclear weapons. But the New Mexico senator balks at cuts Hobson advocates.

The resulting budget has Domenici calling for $6.55 billion next year for the Department of Energy's nuclear weapons work, while Hobson's version calls for $6.18 billion, 9 percent less than Domenici's plan.

Hobson's spending plan has already been approved by the full House. Domenici's plan, approved by the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee Tuesday, must still pass the full Appropriations Committee and the full Senate.

Once that happens, differences between the House and Senate bills will have to be reconciled in a conference committee.

The two agree on increased funding for the Reliable Replacement Warhead, an embryonic effort to design a new type of warhead that would be cheaper to maintain over the long run.

But where Hobson uses the new warhead design as a rationale for cuts in other areas, Domenici's spending plan leaves funding stable.

For nuclear weapons research supercomputers, for example, Hobson calls for $500 million, a significant cut from the Bush Administration's budget request, while Domenici's spending plan calls for $735 million more than the administration requested.

Of that, Domenici's budget allocates $75 million for a new supercomputer at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Hobson's budget calls for a $137 million cut from the administration's request for refurbishing old weapons, saying work should be refocused on the new easier-to-maintain Reliable Replacement Warhead.

Domenici's budget for warhead refurbishment heads moves in the opposite direction, with $37 million more than the administration requested.

Hobson's budget recommends delaying work on a large new plutonium lab at Los Alamos National Laboratory, saying it should wait until the new warhead design is further along.

Domenici's bill recommends that the plutonium lab proceed, budgeting $65 million for the work.

Also on Tuesday, the Senate opened floor debate on its version of a national energy policy reform bill, crafted with heavy input from Domenici and Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.

The bill aims to reduce American dependence on foreign oil sources through increased domestic production of traditional fuels and tax incentives for the development of renewable fuels, such as wind and solar, as well as some encouragement of conservation.

Domenici, Republican chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Bingaman, the top Democrat on the panel, have sparred over energy legislation since Bush took office. But both men have said this year that high gas prices and a renewed sense of cooperation between them should help push this year's bill to the president's desk.

The House has already passed its version of energy legislation. The Senate energy bill debate is expected to take at least two weeks.

Journal staff writer Michael Coleman contributed to this report.