White House confusion over the nation’s nuclear weapons program is at the root of increasing headaches for members of Congress, Rep. Doug Lamborn has charged.
Lamborn, who sits on the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, tells Newsmax that his committee has begun to address the issue with the administration but it hasn’t produced many results.
“It’s caused confusion and scrambling to reassess new priorities,” said the Colorado Republican. “Part of this is a lack of presidential leadership.”
Lamborn’s committee is tasked with holding the White House accountable for reducing nuclear weapons to President Barack Obama’s reported target of 1,000.
Modernizing equipment and facilities related to deactivating and storing U.S. nuclear weapons so that they are no longer a deterrent is a process that takes several years and costs billions of dollars.
The administration is responsible for faithfully informing Congress on how it intends to proceed and where it will prioritize funding to do so, but lawmakers ultimately hold the power of the purse.
Baker Spring, a research fellow in national security policy at the conservative Heritage Foundation, tells Newsmax that Congress could seek legal recourse should Obama fail to fully inform Congress of his intentions. However, Spring said, it holds more leverage with its legislative authorities over spending taxpayer dollars than trying to make a case in the courtroom.
For example, the Senate considered the building of a plutonium handling facility in New Mexico of such critical importance that they specifically included it in the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia (New Start).
The administration has dragged its feet in requesting funds for the project for five years, and some senators have become concerned that it might never build the facility.
Former GOP Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, writing in The Wall Street Journal, elaborated, “The president cannot be unaware of the implications of such delays. Mr. Obama’s own Nuclear Posture Review confirmed that the U.S. cannot reduce warheads under New Start (or beyond) without completing the infrastructure and the rest of the nuclear modernization program.
“The president also risks confrontation with the Senate if he follows through on a reported plan to seek further reductions with Russia by executive agreement rather than another treaty. He has already soured relations with some senators who supported New Start on the basis of his now broken budget commitment.”
Lamborn told Newsmax that Congress will determine how it will respond as it begins directing funds for 2014.
He said the reason that it has not done so already is that military funding has been unpredictable since Republicans won back the House in 2010.
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that he was implementing major voluntary budget cuts in 2010, the Budget Control Act of 2011 required a reduction of $487 billion at the Pentagon over 10 years, and most recently, across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration constrained funding further.
With the budgeting constraints under control, Congress will have the certainty it needs to chart a clearer path forward, Lamborn said.
In addition to appropriating or withholding funds in the House, individual senators can hold up key administration posts from being filled until they get the information they want. It most recently employed this route with the nominations of John Brennan for director of the CIA and Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense.
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky waged a 13-hour filibuster on the Senate floor to hold up Brennan’s nomination over concerns about the administration’s use of armed drones.
Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina held up the nomination of Hagel over what they said was a lack of information from the administration on the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. The attack on the U.S. consulate on Sept. 11, 2012, led to the deaths of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Spring said that it’s “a travesty” the Senate hasn’t done enough to hold the administration more accountable over the future of its nuclear program, specifically under its commitments that it agreed to under New Start.
“I think the Senate is being treated as a potted plant by the administration,” he said. “[Obama] can’t just say ‘I certify that I’m not going to take an expensive gold trip next week’ and then jaunt off to Hawaii the next day.”
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