GOP Boosts Nuclear Weapons Upgrades in 1st Spending Bill

Two maintainers work on a missile while it sits erect in its capsule. Malmstrom's first flight of Minute-man missiles went on alert Oct. 26, 1962. (U.S. Air Force/courtesy photo)

WASHINGTON — Republicans controlling the House unveiled legislation Tuesday to boost spending for veterans' health care and for maintaining the safety of aging nuclear weapons.

Spending for Army Corps of Engineers water projects and for upgrading aging barracks and other facilities at military bases would also be increased as the House gets started on a dozen spending bills to implement budget plans for next year.

The Department of Veterans Affairs, whose annual budget increases enjoy sweeping support on Capitol Hill despite agency foul-ups, would receive an almost $5 billion increase over current levels, and almost 6 percent increase.

"This legislation demonstrates our firm commitment to fully supporting the nation's veterans," said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., the measure's principal author.

Separately, the Energy Department measure includes an almost $1 billion increase for weapons modernization. That's a 12 percent increase, which is made easier because Republicans have boosted Pentagon war accounts by $38 billion to get around tight budget "caps" that would otherwise freeze defense accounts.

In the veterans and energy and water projects measures released Tuesday, however, Republicans would provide greater than inflation increases. That means cuts down the line for domestic accounts such as job training, enforcing environmental regulations, the IRS, and grants for crime-fighting and transportation projects.

The spending bills arrived even though negotiations on a broader GOP budget blueprint have yet to officially begin. Republicans are seeking to boost defense spending while holding other spending flat. Unlike the broader budget measure, which is an illustrative blueprint that doesn't become law, the annual spending measures ultimately require Democratic support and President Barack Obama's input.

Democrats are likely to support the VA budget measure. But they're likely to oppose the energy and water projects legislation over policy provisions known as riders that would interfere with clean water rules. One such rider would permanently block the Army Corps of Engineers from taking action to limit the dumping of certain mining waste in streams and rivers.

Democrats also oppose cuts to renewable energy programs. The energy measure is likely to test the strength of top Senate Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada. In the past, Reid has successfully blocked GOP efforts to keep the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository from being mothballed. Democrats have since lost control of the Senate and Reid is retiring, which sets up a showdown later this year over the facility.

House Majority leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., says the two measures will face floor votes by the end of the month.

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