Rumsfeld faces uphill battle to pass military budget

Congress has reacted skeptically to parts of his $328 billion proposal.

The immediate congressional ire at the proposed military budget shows how rocky a road lies ahead for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

He can expect to absorb plenty of jolts as he seeks approval for his just-released $328 billion budget for fiscal 2002 and, later this year, support for his plan to transform America's military. His problems are both political and financial.

Political because he wants to save money by closing programs and unidentified bases, to the certain opposition of various members of Congress.

And also because he wants to turn over to private enterprise some jobs now done by the military. Georgia's two senators, for instance, both reacted angrily to Rumsfeld's plan to end the basing of B-1 bombers near Macon, Ga., part of his proposal to save $165 million by reducing the number of these huge planes. They complained that, among other things, it would cause a loss of 800 to 900 jobs in their state. Other members of Congress objected to different aspects of the budget proposal.

For Mr. Rumsfeld to get his programs approved, he must convince Congress not so much that they are the right move militarily, but that they are compatable with members' political interests, says Loren Thompson, defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, a think tank in Arlington, Va..

But, he adds, because the plans include closing bases, outsourcing jobs, and ending programs, these plans seem to many in Congress "more like a threat."

And if Congress disagrees, it can make major changes, irrespective of what a secretary of Defense thinks. In fiscal year 2000, Mr. Thompson notes, Congress changed 32 percent of the administration's procurement requests, and 54 percent of its research-and-development requests.

Rumsfeld also faces financial problems. The $1.35 trillion tax cut and the slowing economy have left military needs - including a 5 percent pay raise for all troops - in a dogfight with other domestic needs, such as education, for the country's fast-dwindling surplus.

Congress wants to know where the money will come from for the extra $18.4 billion that Rumsfeld wants for the coming military budget, not to mention to finance the expensive high-tech programs expected to be sought a year from now.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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