June 02, 2023

DOE defense nuclear programs would escape big cuts in deficit deal

By Dan Leone

The Department of Energy’s defense nuclear programs would be largely untouched if the bipartisan deal to cut federal spending and extend the U.S. borrowing limit becomes law.

The deal cleared a major hurdle Tuesday evening when the House Rules Committee voted 7-4 to allow the bill, the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023,” to advance to the House floor for a vote as soon as Wednesday. Two Republicans joined with all the committee’s Democrats to oppose the measure.

Nuclear weapons spending at DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration, and the majority of nuclear-weapons cleanup handled by DOE’s Office of Environmental Management qualify as defense discretionary spending: a category the deficit deal would cap at President Joe Biden’s (D) requested level of about $886 billion for fiscal year 2024.

The White House in March requested $23.8 billion for the National Nuclear Security Administration for fiscal year 2024, an increase of about $1.5 billion from the current fiscal year, and about $8.3 billion for DOE’s Office of Environmental Management, which cleans up shuttered nuclear-weapon production sites. More than $7 billion of that is part of the defense discretionary budget. The cleanup request is about flat compared with the current appropriation.

While Biden has agreed to sign the deficit compromise, which he and Speaker of the House Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) negotiated behind closed doors, Congress must still approve it. 

Media reported this week that some of the most conservative House Republicans have already decided to oppose the bill and the leader of a large bloc of progressive House Democrats has signaled that left-leaning Democrats will also oppose the bill. The bill needs 218 votes to clear the House floor.

In the 100-member Senate, where legislation needs a two-thirds majority to pass, Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) supported the deficit deal, writing in a statement that the Senate should pass the measure without delay. However, some conservative Senate Republicans have expressed doubts about the deal and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has said he would oppose it.

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