Sun, Jul 20, 2003 - Page 6 News List

US House deals a financial blow to `mini-nuke' plan

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , WASHINGTON

In a rare break with the White House on national security policy, the House of Representatives approved a measure on Friday that substantially reduces an administration request for money to begin research on new nuclear weapons.

The Republican-led House, in easily passing a US$27.1 billion bill covering energy and water programs, pared more than US$50 million sought by the White House to lay the groundwork for a new generation of nuclear weapons capable of penetrating underground bunkers. The vote on the overall bill was 377 to 26.

No effort was made on the House floor to restore the money.

"There was no support," an aide to the House Appropriations Committee said.

The action put the House at odds with the Senate, whose energy measure fully finances the administration's nuclear approach.

The White House said in a statement that it "strongly opposes" the reductions in the nuclear spending.

"Failure to invest in these initiatives will impede our ability to transform the nation's nuclear deterrent by denying policy-makers the information they need to make decisions in an informed manner," the Office of Management and Budget said.

The House Appropriations Committee surprised the White House by turning back its request for the research funding that the House and Senate agreed to earlier this year in separate measures authorizing military programs.

At the behest of Republican Representative David Hobson, who is chairman of the panel that wrote the measure, the spending bill eliminated US$6 million to study advanced nuclear weapons concepts like smaller "mini-nukes" with new tactical capabilities. It also cut out US$25 million to speed up the process for conducting underground nuclear tests. It trimmed US$12 million from a US$22 million proposal for environmental studies to choose a location to build the plutonium "triggers" for bombs. It reduced to US$5 million from US$15 million spending on research on converting existing nuclear weapons into earth-penetrating devices.

In the Senate, where support for the weapons initiative has been stronger, an appropriations panel has already approved all of the research money. Republican Senator Pete Domenici, who oversees the energy and water measure, has strong ties to the national nuclear laboratories where the research would be conducted, and he has indicated he will work to override the House cuts.

But Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, an opponent of the research, suggested this week that she would try to strip the money from the bill when it is considered on the floor. Feinstein and other Democrats and nuclear arms control advocates have said they believe the research program could spur another arms race by giving other nations incentives to try to match the new US weapons capability.

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