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Cutting the Solid Gold Nuke

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A bipartisan vote in the U.S. House of Representatives may be a sign that Congress is getting ready to cut wasteful nuclear spending -- beginning with an outdated $11.6 billion nuclear bomb program.

Earlier this week, Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) offered a "thoughtful cut to an outsized nuclear budget for weapons that do little to keep us safe."

Rep. Quigley's amendment to the House Energy and Water Appropriations bill sought to cut $23.7 million from this year's proposed budget for the B61 bomb -- money that Congress unnecessarily added to the program above what the weapons labs requested.

As former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright has noted, B61 bombs have a military value of "practically nil." They were deployed in Europe in the 1960s to deter the Soviets. If the Red Army invaded, these nuclear bombs were supposed to be used in the opening shots of World War III. When the Soviet Union dissolved, so did the purpose of these bombs. Of the thousands of nuclear weapons in Europe that were deployed in 1991, approximately 200 B61 nuclear bombs remain in Europe today.

See an infographic of the full story of the B61 here.

2013-07-12-SolidGoldNukePreview.jpg

Despite the lack of military value, the Pentagon still wants to refurbish the remaining bombs -- a process that would cost a fortune. The planned upgrades would cost $28.9 million per bomb -- twice as much as the cost of the bomb's weight in gold.

"Given our fiscal restraints, we need to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not wasted on programs that don't protect our national security," said Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), who co-sponsored the amendment to cut the B61.

This argument against the B61 is gaining momentum on Capitol Hill.

The Quigley-Polis amendment was narrowly rejected on a bipartisan 196-226 vote -- with 30 Republicans supporting it. This sent a strong signal that the House is ready to cut the bomb.

The Senate wants to cut deeper. In its bill, the Senate Appropriations Committee, led by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), cut the B61 bomb by $168 million -- a 30 percent reduction to this year's budget request. That's enough of a cut to compel the nuclear weapons complex to scale back the program.

The final fate of the B61 bomb in this year's budget is unclear. But the Senate wants a big cut, and cuts have bipartisan support in the House. Given that alignment, it seems likely that the B61 will be dealt a large budget cut this year and face harsh scrutiny for years to come.

That would be a big win for good governance and strategic sense.