House rejects cutting $1.2 billion from nuclear site cleanup

WASHINGTON — The House on Thursday turned down an amendment to the defense authorization bill that would have cut $1.2 billion in funding for cleaning up such federal nuclear sites as Hanford to provide additional money for the nation's missile defense system.

While the amendment was defeated, the bill already included cuts totaling $471 million from the defense waste cleanup effort. The bulk of that money would, instead, be spent on keeping open the production line for the F-22 jet fighter.

The amendment, offered on the floor by Republicans, was defeated 244-171 on a mostly party-line vote.

The $680 billion defense authorization bill was then approved 389-22.

Overall, the bill authorizes slightly more than $5 billion for defense environmental cleanup.

The bill authorizes military spending on everything from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to major weapons and hardware to a 3.4 percent military pay raise. The Senate has yet to act on its version of the bill. After it does, the money will have to be appropriated by the House and Senate appropriations committees.

"While I don't know why nuclear cleanup is being used as a piggybank, I absolutely don't support such actions and I will vote against them," said Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., whose congressional district includes the Hanford nuclear reservation.

Hastings, in a floor speech late Wednesday as the bill first came up for consideration, pointed out that both Democrats and Republicans sought to cut cleanup funding when the House Armed Services Committee considered the measure, seeking to use the money on other defense programs. While the defense authorization bill was important, Hastings said, "insufficient funding in the appropriations process would have real and serious consequences."

"The cleanup program simply cannot sustain continued reductions without jeopardizing progress, breaking legally binding commitments to states and increasing long-term costs to taxpayers," he said.

Those who sought to raid the cleanup account have argued, among other things, that the massive stimulus bill approved by Congress earlier this year included more than $5.1 billion to clean up the Energy Department sites where nuclear materials for the nation's atomic arsenal were produced after World War II.

But others said the cleanup funding in the stimulus bill simply made up for shortfalls over the past several years.

"This legacy is an obligation, it is not an obsession," Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., a member of the House Armed Service Committee, said during the floor debate.

In an interview, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, said that while he respected those who had other defense priorities, the program to clean up the mess left from nuclear weapons production was critical.

"They seem to think cleanup is not worthy of the money," Smith said. "They have never been to Hanford."

Most of the debate on the Senate floor Thursday, however, focused on the need to bulk up funding for the missile-defense system, rather than where the money would come from.

Republicans said the White House proposed and the bill reduced funding for missile defense by $1.2 billion.

"This amendment is common sense, it is a sound amendment and to not support it would be irresponsible," said California Rep. Howard McKeon, a senior Republican on the Armed Services Committee.

Democrats countered that the bill included $9.5 billion for missile defense and even Defense Secretary Robert Gates had called additional funding a "sinkhole" for wasteful spending.

"This amendment would result in wasteful spending," said Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., a committee member. "It's just money, after money, after money."