Avoid a 'Hollow' Military

Congress is working to reverse dangerous Clinton administration defense cuts that threaten our national security. Just months after signing into law the 1996 defense bill, which aimed to reverse years of declining defense spending, President Clinton sent to Congress his recommendations for the 1997 defense budget. As a member of the House National Security Committee, I examined his proposal and discussed it with top defense experts. The results are disturbing:

In a memo to Defense Secretary William Perry, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. John Shalikashvili, said, "I believe we risk future combat readiness of the US military if we fail to adequately fund recapitalization in fiscal year 1997. I urge you to set a procurement goal of $60 billion per year...." The president's response: cut procurement to $39 billion.

When asked if, under the current administration's plans, we could defend our citizens against a single missile launched at the United States, Secretary Perry admitted that "we have no capability to shoot down any ballistic missiles fired at the United States."

Asked about the quality of military housing, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Charles Krulak said, "We are not where we ought to be. It is no secret that the barracks in some locations in the Marine Corps are more than substandard. I went with my godchild to his barracks ... and I was appalled at what he was living in."

Concerned about our nation's safety and the morale of our troops, Congress has stepped in. The National Security Committee drafted a bill that meets two critical goals: (1) guaranteeing future combat readiness of our armed forces, and (2) ensuring a decent quality of life for the families and individuals that dedicate their lives to defending this country.

Improving combat readiness. Real defense spending under Mr. Clinton has plunged to dangerous levels. Meanwhile, he has increased commitments to Haiti, Bosnia, and UN peacekeeping missions that cost billions of dollars. To pay for most of these commitments, the administration has drained money from accounts for supplies, training, maintenance, and equipment upgrades. As a result, we are swiftly sliding toward a Carter-era hollow military.

The widening gap between military activities and resources is dangerous . The Marine Corps says it lacks the ammunition to carry out the administration's military strategy. Unlike the president, Congress sees the danger and is restoring funds for new equipment and basic supplies. We invest in critical weapons research and development. That means Americans will benefit sooner from weapons, like a ballistic-missile defense, that can protect us. While we have given Israel the means to defend their country from a missile attack, America has no such defense. Israel's possession of this lifesaving technology is good. But Americans deserve to have America protected.

Quality of life. The president has required our military personnel to do more with less. Housing is unacceptable. Pay is not comparable to that in the private sector. This hurts our ability to recruit and retain good personnel. In the 1996 budget, Congress included a 2.4% pay hike and a 5.2% increase in the housing allowance. The 3% pay raise for our soldiers in the 1997 budget will also help them make ends meet back home, but we must do more than that. The best quality-of-life improvement we can give our military personnel is the training and equipment necessary to do their jobs. The Clinton cuts make this difficult, if not impossible, to do.

Congress recognized the dangerous cuts in the administration's 1997 defense budget. We are making reasonable investments to maintain America's standing as the world's foremost military power. Our budget does this while maintaining spending at last year's level. No unnecessary increases, no drastic cuts that risk the security of our nation. Just the level of spending the armed services told us they need to revitalize our military and protect our nation.

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