Republicans Want to Nuke Social Spending
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Republicans Want to Nuke Social Spending

Even as They Say the COVID Relief Bill Is Too Costly, the GOP Wants to Spend Billions on Nuclear Weapons

Terry H. Schwadron

Terry H. Schwadron

By now, we know that the overly loud ruckus raised by Congressional Republicans criticizing too much spending and a growing deficit is let loose only when those of us at the bottom and middle are helped. No such rancor arises when it comes to defense spending.

Progressives have argued endlessly that there was no Republican concern about lowering tax rates for the wealthy and corporations.

It is now clear that so-called centrists in Congress, regardless of party, are those who believe that there should be limits on all government spending. For most Republicans, it is enough to oppose anything presented by President Joe Biden.

Our government is on track from the previous administration to spend more than to $1.5 trillion over several years to overhaul the nuclear arsenal.

So, the idea Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid and economic plan actually will squeak through the divided Congress mostly unscathed when the House likely votes today is close to miraculous. And, specifically, passage is thanks to Georgians who elected two Democrats in January.

Actually, there’s another, lesser-discussed of the many pending legislative battles that will put such.thinking to a test. Consider approval for billions this year to upgrade nuclear weapons as part of some proposals to boost defense spending by an estimated 3% to 5%.

According to the Arms Control Center, the government is on track from the previous administration to spend more than to $1.5 trillion over several years to overhaul the nuclear arsenal by rebuilding each leg of the nuclear triad. Included would be:

  • ballistic missile submarines
  • silo-based intercontinental ballistic missiles
  • a new nuclear cruise missile
  • a modified gravity bomb
  • a new stealthy long-range strike bomber
  • and warheads

Cost estimates for this year alone are $16 billion for the National Nuclear Security Administration systems and about $29 billion for the modernization of aging delivery systems.

It is on the scale of changes in these ranges that are contentious. This  time, expect the sides of the ruckus to be reversed.

Spending Priorities

Democrats have been introducing bills to curtail costly nuclear modernization programs. Republicans want Biden to continue spending on defense and weapons modernization with no concern yet about cost. They have included questions about this issue to Cabinet defense nominees.

Indeed, Republicans, as always, are pushing an increase in defense spending overall, though the Trump administration budget for defense for this year was more modest than its $740 billion for the previous year.

To pay for defense, they propose cuts in social spending.

The Biden White House is starting work on its first budget, with some expectations to keep funds for weapons flat against last year, which is still an increase.

We should note that at the same time, we are hearing repeatedly that the biggest threats we face are domestic terrorism, climate change, cybersecurity hacks and international economic warfare. None of those are addressed by better nuclear weapons.

Even among specific military priorities, there are questions about priorities other than more modern nukes –- including the number of Navy ships, actually being able to launch and maintain the expensive fighter jets developed over the last years, military pay and benefits.

Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks apparently has directed a review of selected programs, including low-yield nuclear warheads and nuclear command and control. The Trump administration developed and deployed a submarine-launched, low-yield nuclear warhead, called W76-2, that Democrats argue raises the risk of nuclear war by potentially lowering the threshold for using nuclear weapons.

There now is a bill to stop a new sub-launched cruise missile from Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.)

Feels Like an Old Argument

Actually, it was the Obama administration that started the modernization program out of the belief that aging weapons might prove dangerous to deploy, and that while treaties have called for fewer nukes, they should be in good shape. None of that has stopped the Russians, and now the Chinese, from bringing out new generations of nukes.

So, what we can see brewing is kindling over old issues on spending on weapons over social issues, varying and convenient use of the deficit monster as a threat and partisan maneuvering.

Democrats Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) argue that the real issue here is the over-emphasis of nuclear weapons as well as the cost.

They are lobbying Biden to abandon some of the programs under way and to revisit our actual defense priorities. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the Senate counterpart, argue against what they call efforts to cripple the U.S. nuclear deterrent forever.

House Armed Services Committee Adam Smith, D-Wa,, says that the defense budget ought to be the result of effective spending, whatever the cost.

Hear that silence? No one is talking about deficits.

At best, what we have is a nice distillation of just when deficits do and don’t matter.

 

March 10, 2021