Holding the Government Accountable

Even Bush can't have it all

by Victoria Samson

First appeared in the Topeka Capital-Journal, Dec. 3, 2004

When President George W. Bush was re-elected by a clear majority of Americans, many citizens who were worried about this country's direction started wringing their hands. Their fears seemed prescient when Secretary of State Colin Powell, one of the few moderating voices in the Bush cabinet, resigned, allowing the president to nominate the more hawkish former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice to the position.

With Attorney-General John Ashcroft stepping down, the United States could have chosen a fresh face for our country. Instead, Mr. Bush went with Alberto Gonzales as his pick - the man who wrote the White House memos that were used to justify torture in U.S. prisons abroad. And the Republican-dominated House and Senate seemed poised to rubberstamp the Bush administration's budget requests.

Except they haven't.

In frantic negotiations over the weekend of November 20, 2004, as the Senate and the House worked to smooth over differences between their appropriations for the FY 2005 budget, the White House lost funding for some of its prize projects.

The administration requested $27.6 million for work to begin on a Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, also known as a bunker-buster, which ostensibly would be used against underground targets (even though the United States already has methods of dealing with them). The RNEP received no funding.

The Advanced Concepts Initiatives would spend $9 million on researching new low-yield (and possibly more usable) nuclear weapons. It lost all its requested funding.

Instead, funding was reallocated to programs that would strive to make the existing nuclear arsenal safe and reliable without breaking a decade-long test moratorium.

In an effort to increase its nuclear test-readiness posture, $30 million had been requested to cut the amount of time needed from 36 to 18 months. Instead, $22.5 million was appropriated, which still allows the United States to shorten its test readiness window to 24 months.

And the Bush administration requested $29.8 million for the Modern Pit Facility, which would construct a new plant for building plutonium pits for new nuclear weapons. All but $7 million was lost from this, and Congress put restrictions on what little funding it did allow.

These small yet important reversals do not indicate a partisan win. Rather, they should be seen 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," according to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

Leading the fight against these new nuclear initiatives was Rep. David Hobson, R-Ohio. In an administration that prides itself on its party solidarity, Hobson's decision to ignore presidential diktat and instead work to zero out funding for programs he saw as unnecessary waste is rare indeed. Even in this current climate of expansive Republican control, Hobson is determined to continue along this path. He believes that the administration "should read this as a clear signal from Congress" that, if these programs were to crop up again in next year's budget requests, they "would get the same reaction."

This is good. There are rumbles on the Hill that this is not over yet. The FY 06 budget request comes out on Feb. 1, 2005, and rumor has it that these programs will rear their ugly heads yet again. So the fight continues.

But what is encouraging is that even under these strained political circumstances, the administration's wish was not automatically granted. It will be an uphill battle, but the government still can be held accountable for its actions and funding decisions. It is up to the American public to speak up and insist upon this.

The stakes are too high not to. It is not simply the U.S. nuclear arsenal that must be reined in. Other countries are watching to see how we behave. If we choose, despite an overwhelming conventional military superiority, to sink money into new nuclear weapons, it stands to reason that other countries will use that as a justification for their military nuclear programs. Then supporters in this country will use other nations' programs as reason enough for us to expand our nuclear arsenal. It is a vicious cycle that must be halted while still possible.