GOP Wants to Trim `Fat' And Add Military Muscle
But Democrats see base cleanup, missile dismantling as key to security
CAN the post-cold-war Pentagon, faced with constraints on resources, afford to underwrite inner-city youth programs and security for the Olympic Games?Skip to next paragraph
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No way, assert many members of the new Republican majority in Congress. Bound by a ``Contract With America'' pledge to stem military spending cuts, GOP ``defense hawks'' vow to eliminate many of these ``nontraditional'' defense programs from President Clinton's proposed fiscal 1996 budget.
They want the funds redirected to new weapons, military readiness, and pay hikes. ``We need to optimize every defense dollar already requested or appropriated before we talk about spending more money on defense,'' notes Rep. Floyd Spence (R) of Florida, chairman of the House National Security Committee.
The Pentagon never sought some of these programs. They are personal projects that members of Congress slipped into its budget, such as $40 million to renovate New York City's Pennsylvania Station. Others include $210 million for breast cancer research and $10 million for Los Angeles youth programs.
Administration officials would likely not mind if some of these programs are eliminated or transfered to other agencies. But they dispute GOP contentions that savings of up to $11 billion in ``nondefense'' programs could be found in the $250 billion fiscal 1996 Pentagon budget Mr. Clinton has proposed.
``We're talking about three-tenths of 1 percent against a budget of $250 billion,'' says a senior defense official. By no ``stretch of the imagination'' can we cut $11 billon and not hurt the Defense Department.
The administration appears ready to fight for programs it regards as part of the military's ``broader citizenship responsibilities.'' These include anti-drug-smuggling efforts, humanitarian mine-clearing missions abroad, and security for the Olympic Games.
But the administration's greatest fear is that in their new-found zeal for thrift, Republicans will target programs that at first appear to have little defense-related worth, but actually affect national security.
``It probably would have been politically easier to just take some of those programs off [the budget],'' says Defense Secretary William Perry. ``We considered that, but we decided to stick with our guns because we think we are right.''
Mr. Perry is most concerned about three areas: waste cleanup at United States military bases, the dismantling of former Soviet nuclear missiles, and the Technology Reinvestment Project (TRP), which aids private firms in developing technologies with civilian and military uses.
These programs comprise most of the $60 billion that a recent congressional study suggests might be saved through the elimination of all programs that conservatives consider nontraditional defense items. Perry vows to fight any attempt to reduce or slash these areas.
His fears that they will be targeted were heightened last week, when a House Appropriations Committee took up a Pentagon request for $2.6 billion in emergency funds to cover unanticipated costs from US participation in United Nations peacekeeping operations.
Over Democratic objections, the panel's GOP majority added to the request another $670 million for troop training and new equipment. To help pay for the increase, the Republicans slashed $1.8 billion from the current defense budget, including $502 million from TRP and $150 million for base cleanups.
Another $110 million was purged from the program to dismantle former Soviet nuclear missiles. Under the program, sponsored by Sen. Sam Nunn (D) of Georgia and Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana, the funds were to have paid for the construction of housing for officers of Russia's strategic forces.
The committee's action presages efforts to come. ``The attitude won't change,'' says Quinn Hillier, a committee spokesman. ``If it's not defense related, it does not belong in the defense budget.''
GOP lawmakers may not cut as deeply as Perry fears. They concede that the Pentagon must comply with laws and court orders mandating waste cleanups at military bases. Cleanups are also required before bases can be closed as part of an administration plan to save billions of defense dollars.
But Mr. Spence suggests that by stretching out cleanup operations and ``revisiting underlying statutes or regulations,'' Congress could save millions of dollars that could be used to address more immediate defense requirements.
He also says funds for the actual dismantling of former Soviet nuclear missiles will not be removed. Instead, they will be looking at the money used for housing Russian officers, Russian environmental cleanup, and Russian defense conversion - all ``not a proper use of defense funds,'' he says.
Critics, however, point out that Russian law prohibits the closing of nuclear missile bases until officers living on them are moved to alternative housing. The US has agreed to help provide that housing as part of the Nunn-Lugar program. ``It is really a matter of simple logic,'' says a congressional expert. ``We may not like the Russian law, but you cannot destroy the missile sites without getting the people off.''
TRP appears to face the bleakest future. Though the technology-sharing program is a Clinton favorite, GOP opponents charge it has wasted funds because few of its products have military uses.