The Senate voted quietly Thursday to undo a proposal in its fiscal 2021 defense authorization bill that would have given the Pentagon extraordinary new power to shape the Energy Department’s future nuclear weapons budgets.
CQ Roll Call reported this week on behind-the-scenes opposition to provisions in the Senate Armed Services Committee’s version of the NDAA that would have given certain Defense Department officials new clout to set the amount and the content of the budget the Energy Department prepares for its National Nuclear Security Administration every year.
Critics had raised alarms that the move to give the Pentagon this power would lessen civilian control of the nuclear weapons enterprise and could jeopardize Energy Department priorities such as cleaning up nuclear sites, supporting clean energy or combating nuclear proliferation.
Now the effort to change the balance of budgeting power in the executive branch appears dead, after the Senate adopted an amendment by Washington Democrat Maria Cantwell and West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin III — senior members of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee — that dramatically changes the bill’s NNSA budget provision. Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski, the committee’s chairwoman, also has opposed the defense bill’s proposed shift in budget power.