Hatfield: a Republican who will pinch pennies on arms spending
Washington — Symbols of war and peace fill the spacious office of Sen. Mark O. Hatfield, a Republican who is soon to be chairman of the Senate committee with the last word on spending.
An old war drum and black cannon sit on the carpet; an Indian feather headdress stands in a croner; visages of Abraham Lincoln hang on the walls; and a Bible rests on his desk.
Wearing an evergreen frontier-style suede coat and calling himself a "fiercely independent" Oregonian, Senator Hatfield says he plans to harness "runaway" military spending.
As chief of the powerful Appropriations Committee, he seems headed for political battles with the new GOP majority in the Senate and a defense-boosting new president, Ronald Reagan.
"I will apply the same fiscal scrutiny to military spending that many of my Republican brethren want to apply to social programs," says Hatfield in an interview.
"We accuse Democrats of throwing money at social programs, yet we are guilty of doing the same thing in the nae of 'national defense,'" says the three-term Republican lawmaker.
Sen. John Tower (R) of Texas, incoming Armed Services Committee chairman, has stated his goal of a $20 billion a year hike in military spending, mainly for new weapon systems.
Such a "blind, unsophisticated assessment" of the nation's defense needs could be corrected by a strong Appropriations Committee, Mr. Hatfield claims.
"I am very much in the minority on defense expenditures because I do not see defense merely as a military question," admits the early opponent of the Vietnam war.
"Our overdependence on oil imports, our diminishing productivity, our inflation-ridden economy are the most vulnerable parts of our national security, " he says.
"I say 'no' to always escalating the military budget."
Instead, this man with a strong hand on the US Treasury spigot hopes to "get more security out of the same dollars."
This more-bangs-for-the-bucks approach includes higher pay for the military's technical jobs, fewer family-attached servicemen abroad, contracting out for noncombat services, and generally tightening up the armed services readiness, early warning systems, and "infrastructure."
In addition, Hatfield plans to propose cheaper alternatives to large weapons systems, such as the B-1 bomber and MX mobile missile system, which he has opposed. He suggests building the Submerged Underwater Missile system (SUM), a less-costly and quicker-built alternative to MX.
But, the incoming chairman admits, power does not always follow position. "I can't play the dog-in-the-manager role where, if it's not my way, it's no way at all. I don't believe in that kind of gamesmanship," Hatfield explains.
A worsened economy, rather than concerns over national defense, led to the Republican election victories, he insists. There was not a lurch to the "right, " and the military question was a concern only within a small conservative element, he claims.
Republicans, says Hatfield, have two years to show some progress on fighting inflation or their Senate majority may end.
The federal budget, he believes, can be balanced in three years "if we don't have a tax cut, are willing to harness military spending, and tighten the belt on some social programs."
He hopes to rein in the power of the Appropriation subcommittees and take the full committee "on the road" for hearings directly with the spenders and recipients of taxpayers' dollars.
Like several other lawmakers, Hatfield will push for a two-year budget process, allowing Congress extra time to oversee programs.
The liberal Republican plans to be a strong voice in protecting social programs "until we have programs to replace them that are better."
Water projects, a traditional prerogative of the Appropriations Committee, will be one area for budget cuts. "There is a very bad image of water projects, " he admits. "I think you are going to see a phasing out of that kind of program."