Defense Budget Faces Big Cuts in Congress

PRESIDENT Bush's first post-cold war defense budget faces cuts of $18 billion to $24 billion in Congress, including deep reductions in ``star wars'' and military personnel and a possible end to production of the B-2 Stealth bomber. The range of cuts has been set forth in bills approved by Armed Services committees for Senate action late this week and House action in September.

The House committee approved a bill Tuesday night that would cut $24 billion from Mr. Bush's $306.9 billion defense request for next year and would kill B-2 bomber production beyond the 15 already started.

It would also cut Bush's $4.7 billion Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) research request to $2.9 billion and would cut military personnel by 129,500 troops - 50,000 of them from Europe.

``This could be the first tangible result of the end of the cold war,'' Rep. John Kasich (R) of Ohio, a leading B-2 opponent, said after the vote on the bomber.

But Rep. Ike Skelton (D) of Missouri, who lost an effort to restore the B-2 money, told reporters the bomber's defeat by the full Congress would ``eventually put the Air Force out of the bomber business.''

Opposition to the B-2 program has grown because of the high estimated cost - $62 billion for a fleet of 75 planes.

The Senate Armed Services Committee's bill would cut $18 billion off the president's $306.9 billion request, including a $1 billion cut from Bush's request for SDI research. The bill would also cut 100,00 people from active military duty next year.

The Senate committee approved Bush's B-2 request, but supporters, including Chairman Sam Nunn (D) of Georgia, now are not sure they can save the Stealth in the full Senate.

Both the House and the Senate will drive to turn SDI into purely a study program, blocking Bush's plan to gain enough research to consider first-phase SDI deployment in two years.

Both bills would also reject Bush's request for 10-warhead MX mobile missiles. The House bill would direct Bush to choose between the MX and a single-warhead Midgetman missile.

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