Morning Briefing - July 22, 2020
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July 22, 2020

House NDAA Passes With Bipartisan Support; Trump Threatens Veto

By ExchangeMonitor

The House approved its version of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act with a bipartisan vote Tuesday, supporting the Trump administration’s requested funding for nuclear-weapon operations at the Department of Energy. However, President Donald Trump threatened to veto the measure, over provisions including production of plutonium warhead cores and removing Confederate iconography from government property.

The vote was a nominally veto-proof 295-125. Among those voting “aye” were Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the retiring ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee; Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), ranking member of the panel’s strategic forces subcommittee; and Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), a prominent figure and fundraiser among House Republicans who is among the conference’s most hawkish.

In a statement of administration policy, the White House criticized a provision of the annual military policy bill that would require an independent study of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) planned plutonium-pit factory at the Savannah River Site in Aiken, S.C. The administration said the study, which would be essentially controlled by the secretary of energy, is “unnecessary,” because the agency’s acquisition rules already call for multiple cost estimates, sometimes from NNSA offices that are independent of any specific project.

On a larger stage, the bill also would prohibit the NNSA from using its fiscal 2021 budget to make any preparation for a yield-producing nuclear-weapon test. It also would add the secretaries of energy and defense to the joint Pentagon-DOE Nuclear Weapons Council: the government’s specialized nuclear-weapons procurement shop that coordinates the two agency’s nuclear-arms acquisitions, and which already includes senior deputies of these two Cabinet officials.

Those two House provisions are at odds with language in the Senate’s version of the annual military policy bill, which the upper chamber was still debating at deadline. The Senate’s bill has money to prepare for explosive weapons tests and would increase the existing Nuclear Weapons Council’s sway over the NNSA’s annual budget request. 

Overall, the House bill would authorize the NNSA to spend some $20 billion in fiscal 2021, which begins Oct. 1. That is about 20% more than the 2020 budget of over $16.5 billion. However, the House Appropriations Committee’s 2021 DOE budget bill, approved last week and scheduled for floor debate next week, provides roughly $18 billion for the NNSA. 

Meanwhile, DOE’s Office of Environmental Management would be authorized to spend nearly $5.75 billion on the Defense Environmental Cleanup programs that make most of its budget: a boost over the Trump administration’s request of roughly $5 billion, but below the 2020 appropriation of about $6.25 billion. The House Appropriations Committee’s 2021 spending bill for DOE, on the other hand, includes $6.3 billion for this account, as part of an overall $7.5 billion Environmental Management budget.