Jeffrey LewisNow We’re Just Negotiating The Price

It appears that several Republicans — including Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) — have been hinting that they will vote for the New START treaty, if only the Obama Administration were to add another $10 billion to its $80 billion request over 10 years for the nuclear weapons complex.

(In case you were wondering, the $80 billion figure comes from the 1251 report, rather than the budget submission.  Well, I wondered. )

The argument is that $80 billion might not be enough to cover potentially significant cost over-runs associated with new facilities. Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) told Reuters, “I think there’s about a $10 billion gap” between what the administration has proposed and what is needed.

Now, I am a little confused.

Wasn’t Bob Corker the guy who voted against the extension of unemployment benefits because, he said, “I cannot in good conscience continue voting for bills that aren’t paid for.”  And the guy who, again citing the deficit, called the Stimulus Bill “a huge mistake”?  Yeah, that guy.

So where is that squeaky clean conscience when it comes to the New START treaty?  Another $10 billion?  With a B? What’s the plan to pay for that? Could Corker’s sudden concern about a funding gap have anything to do with the Uranium Processing Facility planned for the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, which will cost between $1.4-3.5 billion?

Here is a suggestion: By all means, give Senator Corker his extra $10 billion — but let’s pay for it. After all, we want poor Bob to have a clean conscience.

The easiest thing to do, of course, would be to levy a “stockpile modernization” tax — say a fraction of a percent on every can of beer — to cover the cost of the facilities and help people feel good about ensuring the US nuclear arsenal remains second-to-none while knocking back a couple of cold ones.  But, somehow, I think Bob Corker would rather unilaterally disarm the United States before voting for a tax increase.  (Indeed, I can imagine a rather amusing list of things Bob Corker would rather do than vote for a tax increase.)

Which leaves us the other tried and true method of raising revenue: raiding other funds!

Take The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 — the so-called “Stimulus Bill” that Corker described as “a huge mistake.”

How about this: Let’s spend the whole $90 billion that Corker wants, but let the first ten billion on infrastructure modernization come out of stimulus funds, on a state-by-state basis.  So, for example, Tennessee — which will receive $4.2 billion in stimulus funding, “more money than it can possibly spend,” according to Senator Corker — might shift a billion or so of that money burning a hole in its metaphorical pocket toward the Uranium Processing Facility, rather than getting in line for another handout from Uncle Sugar.

What?  You don’t think Senator Corker would go for that? Whatever gives you that idea?


  1. page (History)

    Corker did some interesting back-of-the-envelope calculations (or not really even that) regarding the UPF at Y-12. Specifically:

    Sen. Bob Corker today said the Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant could cost between $4 billion and $5 billion. That’s a sharp increase from the cost range — $1.4-$3.5 billion — used by the NNSA and its contractors over the past couple of years.

    He goes on to say he doesn’t really know what the official estimate is, because the Y-12 folks won’t tell him, but it’s what “others” tell him. It’s kind of vague, not unlike the source for the $10 billion that he, Kyl, and the other Senators are talking about.

    It’s also worth noting that Corker has made the argument that the US is “behind other countries” in the “modernization” of the arsenal. As I’ve argued before, “modernization” is in the eyes of the beholders. Anyway, the magical $10 billion number comes up again in that article.

    • page (History)

      Oops – the link to the first blockquote is here.

  2. Robert Merkel (History)

    Oh, this game is fun. Can I play too?

    If we’re talking truly useless government spending, it’s hard to go past agricultural subsidies.

    Tennessee apparently gets about three billion dollars a year in agricultural subsidies. Maybe the government could chop a billion or two out of those…

  3. RK Baker (History)

    The Dems control the Executive & Congress & those bad ol GOPer’s are still causing problems.

    At this rate we’ll never be able to unilaterally disarm!


  4. Ender (History)

    Wow, you REALLY nailed Senator Corker!!!

    Or…… possibly you just overlooked the fundamental economics of the stimulus, which was almost worse than actually just burning the money for several reasons. One, it crowds out investment. Two, it encourages more of the type of malinvestment that got us into the recession in the first place. Third, it’s yet more spending we cannot pay for and it makes the $80-90b look like chump change (though it is not, sadly). It’s not *ALL* bad, but it’s certainly not as useful as defense spending.

    True, this defense spending would not generate as much wealth long-term as $80-90b kept in the hands of the market. Yet in the long-run it makes sense because defense is truly a public good. Besides the tax cuts, nothing in the stimulus really encouraged efficient economic allocations.

    Anyway, though it pains me to point it out, he doesn’t seem to say we shouldn’t find a way to pay for the money he is requesting. I mean, if you’re going to make a logical argument based on some kind of hypocrisy, you should at least try to find a contradiction, wouldn’t you say?

    I enjoy your work regarding arms control, but this is a silly foray into your personal preference that doesn’t really mesh well with what you’re good at.

    • Robert Merkel (History)

      Ender, without wishing to indulge in an economics debate on an arms control blog, there is a large and respectable slab of economic theory that disagrees with you. I wouldn’t go so far as to claim it to be consensus, but I’d also have a look at the two developed countries that didn’t go into recession over the past couple of years and look at their fiscal policies over that period, and compare them to certain other countries.

      And Jeffrey’s point, as I understand it, is that while Corker is happy to decry “useless” stimulus spending in other contexts, Senator Corker is extremely keen to have several billion dollars dumped in his home state for a factory that’s churning out weapons that serve no military purpose whatsoever.

      Not only is it pork-barreling, it demonstrates that Corker doesn’t believe his own rhetoric when it comes to spending government money in his own state.

  5. nothanks (History)

    This is just more partisan posturing.

    Sadly, this is ubiquitous on both sides of the aisle and its disgusting. When governing bodies spend more time stonewalling the other side than getting things done its time for a change. Unfortunately, the Congress oversees itself, so the changes will get worse, not better.

    Until the self-entitlement and lobbyist are removed from congress, people like Bob will continue to help his peers dismantle any semblance of government for the people for their own enrichment and that of their cronies, friends and financial supporters.

  6. yousaf (History)

    If we are talking truly useless and wasteful government subsidies to the military industrial complex it’s hard to out-do missile defense [sic]. e.g. See my letter in Saturday’s WaPo:

    At least the nuclear weapons work.

    I also have an OpEd in Aviation Week on the linkage between START and Missile Defense — unfortunately it is not available free online, but I’d be happy to send it to anyone who is interested: you can reach me at ybutt -at-

  7. 3.1415 (History)

    As long as Uncle Sam can print money at will, what’s the fuss about $10 billion? It comes from China anyway. Uncle Sam’s nukes are his collateral against a possible default in the not too distant future. The ability to threaten war is the best guarantee not only for peace, but also against collection of debts.

    Need the vote, then show Bob the money. It might be cheaper to bribe the Russians into something more worthwhile.

  8. Andy (History)

    So, professional politicians are self-serving hypocrites? Please tell us something we don’t already know.