Unlike Health Care, When It Comes To Nukes, Cost Is No Object
The lead story in Saturday's Washington Post, about the nuclear weapons decisions facing President Obama, runs longer than 1,300 words, but five a reader won't find are "cost," "dollars," "money," "debt," or "deficit." A reader would also search in vain for any talk of a "fiscal crisis" or a need to balance nuclear weapons priorities with available revenues.
That same reader, of course, rarely has to venture past the first sentence of a health care reform story to find that the subject is a "trillion dollar overhaul." Occasionally, it's noted that the trillion dollars is spread over ten years.
One particular decision that Obama faces is whether to continue what's known as the "triad" - three independent ways the United States developed to annihilate the Soviet Union. Warheads can be delivered with bombers, from submarines or with intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The military developed ICBMs in the '50s and '60s, recognizing that bombers would soon be obsolete and too easy to defend against. But the bomber squadrons have their own internal and industry defenders and have never been phased out. Each leg of the triad costs tens of billions of dollars per year to maintain.
House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) has proposed what he refers to as a "radical" notion. "My point is that now that there is no longer a Soviet Union, and there is instead a country called Russia, which is much smaller and in fact much weaker militarily, it is clear that we do not need to maintain all three weapons systems for dropping thermo-nuclear weapons on this now nonexistent empire," Frank told HuffPost. "My radical proposal is that we say to the Pentagon that they can pick two of the three, and let us abolish one."
The Post reports that Obama's aides will recommend to him that all three ways to destroy the old Soviet Union be kept in place. The amount that could be saved by cutting any of the three is likely much higher than the two largest ways Obama has identified to pay for health care reform: an excise tax on high-cost premiums that unions and the middle class loathes and cuts to Medicare Advantage, which have seniors frightened.