Clinton to Seek Defense Spending Boost
Washington Post Staff writer
Sunday, January 3, 1999; Page A12
President Clinton will propose the largest increase in defense spending since the end of the Cold War buildup of the 1980s in the budget he will send to Congress next month.
Responding to demands by the nation's top military commanders, Clinton's fiscal year 2000 budget will include a boost in spending on the armed forces of $12 billion and a total increase of about $110 billion over the next six years, according to administration and Pentagon officials.
If approved by Congress, the increase would fund the largest military pay increase since 1984 and a round of new, sophisticated jet fighters, attack helicopters and warships although it would be less than the $148 billion increase sought by the Defense Department.
Clinton's proposal would bring defense spending in the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, to $296 billion and represents the first substantial, sustained increase for the Pentagon in 15 years, defense officials said.
"We must undertake this effort today so that our nation will remain strong and secure tomorrow," Clinton said yesterday in his weekly radio address. "The more we ask, the greater our responsibility to give our troops the support and training and equipment they need."
The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 requires that any increase in spending in one area be offset by cuts in spending in another part of the budget. Administration officials declined yesterday to say how they would come up with the additional money, but suggested that some of it would come from programs whose costs may be less than anticipated because of low inflation and declining fuel prices.
"People can be assured that we will continue to fully meet our domestic priorities," one senior administration official said.
Over the last few months, the nation's military chiefs, led by Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, held what one participant called an unprecedented series of meetings with Clinton to argue for the increase.
In those meetings, the commanders argued that the increase was necessary to boost pay and retirement benefits to retain mid-level officers and noncommissioned officers and to maintain and improve the most sophisticated arsenal in the world.
The military leaders were backed by conservative members of Congress who repeatedly attacked Clinton for giving the military a range of new missions -- including peace-keeping in Bosnia and Haiti, full-time air patrols over Iraq, and anti-drug efforts -- without the funding needed to carry them out while also maintaining a proper level of training and the equipment to fight a major conventional war.
Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), incoming chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said yesterday the administration proposal "falls way short" of the needs targeted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff last February and that Congress would increase the commitment.
Warner said Clinton was "very clever" to unveil his plan just before a planned hearing on military readiness before Warner's committee on Tuesday. He said he expected the Joint Chiefs of Staff "will hold firm to our earlier, much higher dollar requirements." A military official said that Clinton's proposed increase would cover most of the needs the Pentagon sees as critical.
But critics say the Pentagon's demands reflect a lingering and inappropriate Cold War mentality among military planners who believe it is imperative to buy and build ever more sophisticated weapons. Military spending in the United States far exceeds that of any other nation, these critics point out, and the gap between U.S. technology and even that of its allies is growing alarmingly wide.
Russian and China, second behind the United States in defense spending, each spend about $50 billion a year on defense, said Michael O'Hanlon, a defense expert at the Brookings Institution.
"It doesn't make sense to add billions for gold-plated weapon systems when nobody can keep up with us anyway," O'Hanlon said. "That's Cold War thinking."
But the increase Clinton will propose is not as much as the military chiefs had hoped for.
They had proposed a $148 billion increase over the six years. But yesterday, a senior military officer said Clinton's proposal would "meet the most critical needs, the no-kidding, must-have" items, including new F-22 fighters, new warships and new Commanche attack helicopters.
The $38 billion difference between the $110 billion White House proposal and the $148 billion Pentagon wish, the official said, would have paid for less critical items, such as sewer system repairs at bases and replacement B-52 bombers, that could safely be put off for several years and might be funded with the savings from another round of politically controversial base closings.
To compete with the private sector in a strong economy, Cohen and Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Henry H. Shelton have called for an across-the-board 4.4 percent pay raise for the 1.4 million troops, and have proposed additional raises targeted at crucial personnel such as Navy and Air Force pilots, and for mid-career officers and noncommissioned officers, the backbone of the fighting force.
The $12 billion increase that would flow to the Defense Department in fiscal 2000, Pentagon officials said, includes about $2.5 billion for pay and benefit increases and $2 billion for next year's deployment of nearly 7,000 troops in Bosnia.
Much of the remaining $7.5 billion would be divided among the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps for procurement and "readiness" items, such as spare parts for trucks, tanks, ships, aircraft and fuel and munitions used in training activities that troops participate in each year to ready them to fight in conventional conflicts.
Staff writer Spencer Hsu contributed to this report.
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