Oct. 11--The U.S. House voted 248-176 Friday to approve funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration and New Mexico's national laboratories through mid-December, but the bill's fate in the Democratic-controlled Senate is uncertain at best.
Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., voted for the spending bill. Reps. Ben Ray Lujan and Michelle Lujan Grisham voted against it. The GOP-led house has passed a series of partial government funding bills in recent days, but Senate Democrats have opposed that approach, arguing that Congress shouldn't pick and choose which federal agencies have their budgets restored.
Meanwhile, the government shutdown is its 12th day with no clear path to a legislative agreeement. Pearce, whose district includes the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant funded by the NNSA, said he had lobbied this week to get the NNSA bill to the House floor.
"Today's vote to fund the NNSA is key to the security of our nation, and assures that the hard-working employees of Los Alamos and Sandia National Labs will continue to have jobs," said Pearce. "Our contractors and employees at Sandia and Los Alamos provide a vital service to our nation, which must continue without interruption -- this legislation ensures that."
"With Los Alamos and Sandia announcing furloughs in the near future, I urge the Senate to quickly act on this legislation, not only for the thousands of New Mexico jobs it saves, but also for the security this bill provides," Pearce added.
Los Alamos and Sandia National Labs receive roughly half of their yearly operating budgets from the NNSA's budget. Both labs are preparing to furlough employees on Oct. 21 if the federal budget impasse is not resolved.
In a floor speech Friday, Lujan said the NNSA budget is critical to New Mexico, but he said the bill approved Friday would actually cut lab budgets because it retains sequester-level funding. He called the bill approved Friday a "shame and a sham."
"This bill denies these national security labs the funding they need as it locks in the deep cuts of sequester for two more months.
"There is not a member of this body, Democrat or Republican, that says they likethe sequester, but my Republican colleagues refuse to lift it. And they say they want to keep the government open, but they place conditions on it.
"This piecemeal approach in this bill to the Department of Energy and the NNSA is picking winners and losers with employees that are going to be furloughed. This is a shame and it's a sham. This Republican charade that is going to go home to my state of New Mexico and direct the directors of the lab to tell employees who is going to go home without a paycheck and who will not, because there is still not assurance that the Secretary of Energy, through the Department of Energy, will make these employees whole through an allowable cost that will be accepted. Enough is enough."
Lujan Grisham sounded a similar theme.
"To serve their critical national security mission, New Mexico's national laboratories require the certainty and stability of a full funding bill," she said in a statement. "Unfortunately, House Republicans' piecemeal approach falls short. In fact, this bill would actually cut Sandia National Labs' funding by 46 percent.
"In addition, with nearly all of Sandia's employees and many of Los Alamos's employees facing furloughs, the drastic cuts in this bill guarantee that a large number of those dedicated employees would be unable to continue working.
"New Mexico's national labs need and deserve to be made whole again. The best way to do that is to immediately pass the Senate's short-term government funding compromise that would reopen the entire federal government until November 15 while we work together on a long-term budget solution."
(c)2013 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.)
Visit the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.) at www.abqjournal.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services
Original headline: U.S. House approves bill to fund NM's national laboratories
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