In Era of Austerity, Pentagon May Get More Guns, Planes
WASHINGTON — THE GOP-led House has pushed through a plan calling for the first real increase in military spending in 10 years. But many experts say it still falls far short of the funding that will be needed for the US to carry out its ambitious plan for a post-cold war defense strategy - while the Clinton administration believes in many areas the House has gone too far.
The differing views underscore how the billion-dollar battle over the money the Pentagon needs for tomorrow's tanks and planes is just beginning - with important implications for the overall US budget and definition of Republican defense philosophy.
"In our opinion, it certainly does not fund the mismatch between plans and resources," says Carol Lessure, legislative analyst for the independent Washington-based Defense Budget Project, of the House defense spending bill.
John Luddy, a defense analyst with the conservative Heritage Foundation, says the military budget the House passed Thursday is an improvement on President Bill Clinton's proposal. But, he adds, it is not enough. "Everybody realizes we have a train wreck," says Mr. Luddy. "The numbers just don't add up. The match doesn't work."
The US defense strategy, outlined in a 1993 Pentagon report known as the Bottom-Up Review (BUR), calls for a US military force sized and equipped to win two near-simultaneous regional conflicts in different parts of the globe. Some critics, including senior military officers, deride the BUR. They say it is based on an unlikely scenario and that the forces and funds it requires are, therefore, far too high.
The Clinton administration defends the blueprint, contending that its five-year blueprint for military spending, which reduces Pentagon funds by 9.8 percent by 2001, will support the BUR. Others disagree, including Republican "defense hawks" in the House. Making good on a pledge in the Contract With America to boost defense spending, they pushed through a fiscal 1996 defense budget of $267.3 - $9.5 billion more than Clinton sought. It would be the first military spending hike in a decade that compensates for inflation.
"Our bill begins to bridge the huge gap between the administration's national-security strategy and the defense resources needed to implement that strategy," says Rep. Floyd Spence (R) of South Carolina, chairman of the House National Security Committee and author of the legislation. His optimism, however, may be misplaced.
The final version of the defense budget produced by Congress later this year will almost certainly be lower than Mr. Spence's bill. The GOP-controlled Senate, preoccupied with deficit-slashing, has already approved a fiscal 1996 military spending ceiling of $256.6 billion, the same as proposed by Clinton. GOP Senate sources say majority leaders may be willing to raise the ceiling by up to $6 billion, but no more.
Whatever hike GOP lawmakers agree on, the BUR will remain vastly underfunded, experts say. Studies by the General Accounting Office and the Congressional Budget Office have estimated the shortfall at between $50 billion and $150 billion over the next five years.
More alarming is a recent report by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. It says that to properly fund the BUR in fiscal 1996, the country would have to spend $311 billion, or 4.5 percent of the US gross national product.
THE study recommends abandoning the BUR, reducing the size of the US armed services further and redirecting resources into new technologies and capabilities, including global surveillance, antimissile defense, long-range strike, and mobility. "This smaller force will be a more modern force than the BUR envisioned," the study says.
In approving their budget, GOP House members added funds to programs that Clinton and the Joint Chiefs of Staff opposed, including the B-2 stealth bomber, military housing, antimissile defenses. They slashed others they were urged to support, such as the Seawolf attack submarine, defense-related environmental clean-up programs, and funding for dismantling former Soviet nuclear weapons.