IT’S ONLY NUCLEAR SECURITY, RIGHT?…. We talked the other day about one of the broader concerns regarding the House GOP’s proposed spending cuts: they’re so awful, it’s hard to even know where to start. Should the focus be on cuts to Head Start? How about undercutting job training? And children’s immunizations? And infrastructure?

But just because there are a lot of rhetorical targets doesn’t mean one should just throw up their arms in disgust and stop criticizing a truly horrid proposal.

We’ve talked before about the GOP’s plan to slash funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s counter-proliferation programs, and even eliminating funds to maintain the nation’s nuclear stockpile — which sounds crazy, but which is actually what Republicans are proposing. Rachel Maddow’s segment on this last night helped summarize the issue nicely:

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For those who can’t watch clips from your work computers, I’ve included a transcript of the relevant portion below, but let’s be clear about what’s on the table here. There’s a National Nuclear Security Administration that’s responsible for locking loose nuclear material around the world. To call this work “important” is a laughable understatement — securing these materials keeps dangerous governments and terrorists from acquiring even rudimentary nuclear capabilities.

And House Republicans — the ones who believe we can afford hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts — voted for a plan to take $550 million from the agency that already has a modest budget, despite helping keep nuclear materials off the black market.

This, the GOP says, is an example of responsible governing in the 21st century.

From the transcript:

MADDOW: America’s fear-mongering history about the nuclear end of the world is kind of too bad because it is not fear-mongering to talk about the nuclear end of the world if you are actually working directly to stop the nuclear end of the world. That is the job of one part of the United States government.

It’s an obscure office in the Department of Energy called the National Nuclear Security Administration. They lock down unprotected loose nuclear material around the world to keep it off the black market and out of terrorist hands, which without being hysterical about it, does seem like an important job when you consider that groups like al Qaeda have said over and over again they want to buy nuclear material so they could use it in a terrorist attack and there is evidence that they have tried to buy it on the black market. There is part of the U.S. government that finds the most vulnerable nuclear material in the world and secures it.

So, if you’re worried about this sort of thing, the appropriate response is: good. I’m glad we’re doing that.

After that agency locked down 111 pounds of nuclear material in Ukraine around Christmas time, we hosted the head of the nuclear administration here on this show. We christened him the “under secretary for saving the world.”

Now, the Republicans in Congress want to strip the funding for that agency. Even though they said they wouldn’t make any national security cuts, they want to cut $550 million from the agency that locks down unprotected loose nuclear material to keep it off the black market around the world, which means that for what may be the first time in U.S. history, an ad that starts this way is actually true and is not fear-mongering.


LT. GEN. ROBERT GARD, JR. (voice-over): What I am about to tell you sounds crazy but it’s true — Speaker John Boehner is making it easier for terrorists to get nuclear weapons.


MADDOW: Sounds crazy? Also true. It sounds like a generic “be afraid” ad from the Bush administration era. In this case, Republicans really have proposed making it a half billion dollars easier for terrorists to get nuclear material.

That was the first line of a new ad voiced by Retired Lieutenant General Robert Gard. He’s part of a counter-proliferation group running these ads against the nuke terrorism cuts in key congressional districts. Listen.


GARD: Speaker John Boehner and the House Republicans cut hundreds of millions of dollars from the successful U.S. program to secure dangerous weapons-grade nuclear material all around the world. Terrorists can make nuclear weapons with it. John Boehner’s reckless cut to our nuclear security budget goes way too far. We all want Congress to cut the budget but do it responsibly.


MADDOW: The ads are targeting not just John Boehner but Mitch McConnell, Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, Hal Rogers and Thad Cochran, all elected Republicans supporting g this big cut — this big cut on the part of the U.S. government that actually works on that whole smoking mushroom cloud problem instead of just freaking you out about it to accomplish some other unrelated political thing.

We do not have a word in the English language that means the opposite of fear-mongering but if we ever do have that word, this will be the example next to that word in the political science dictionary.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.