GOP Wants More Money for Military
By Guy Gugliotta and Bradley Graham
Sources close to the Republican leadership said yesterday that House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) wants to nearly double the president's request so the Pentagon not only can extend the air war over Kosovo through September but address perceived military needs in Asia and the Middle East.
"The administration's supplemental request . . . does not address the many shortages our military now faces, including personnel, readiness, modernization and training," said Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense. "I view this as an opportunity to address a number of these critical shortfalls."
Administration officials and congressional Democrats condemned the Republican intent as unnecessary and misguided, and suggested the GOP wanted to turn a desperate armed conflict and humanitarian tragedy in the Balkans into an orgy of military pork-barrel spending.
"I do not believe we should use the daily sacrifice of our troops to buy every item for the Pentagon that they have wanted for years," said Rep. David R. Obey (Wis.), the senior Democrat on the Appropriations Committee. "I was appalled that some Republicans intend to use this as an opportunity to blow up the balloon on military spending."
In a mostly cordial hearing before Lewis's subcommittee yesterday, Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and Army Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, edged away from direct confrontation over the size of the emergency spending bill.
Instead, Cohen several times described the $6 billion as sufficient to fund through September the operations of an intensified air campaign, to replenish already expended munitions and anticipated munitions needs and to call up and deploy nearly 26,000 reservists.
But off Capitol Hill, administration officials complained bitterly that GOP defense hawks were trying to make an end run around congressional budget restrictions, get some money for pork barrel projects and burnish the party's pro-defense credentials in time for next year's presidential elections.
"Our position is, we feel we legitimately ought to seek from Congress anything it takes to pay for the operations in the Balkans," said a senior defense official. "But we don't feel we have to seek additional funds beyond that. For those who want to use this as a gravy train, we think it's inappropriate."
GOP leadership sources said the idea of using the emergency bill as a vehicle for increased military spending came from Hastert after conversations with Lewis and House Appropriations Committee Chairman C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.).
"The emerging picture is a 'hollowing out' of the military," said a source close to the GOP leadership. Under current military doctrine, the source added, the armed forces are supposed to be ready to fight two major engagements at one time, but Hastert has noted that "we're taking assets out of Korea and the Middle East" to fight the Balkans intervention.
Hastert's view is that Clinton should both fund Kosovo operations and replenish munitions at a rate faster than they are being expended, as well as begin to "look at" purchasing new aircraft, ships and other assets.
The $6 billion, the source said, "just doesn't do it." Hastert sees $10 billion to $11 billion as "not unreasonable," and considerably less than some GOP lawmakers are demanding. Yesterday morning, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, told the House Republican caucus that the services needed $28.7 billion to overcome "short-term shortages," with the Air Force alone facing shortfalls of $18 billion.
Hunter based his estimates on data requested from the individual services, which have eagerly embraced the idea of more spending, sensing an opportunity to cover lingering shortfalls -- especially in maintenance and weapons modernization programs.
And once word got out that the GOP leadership was leaning toward adding billions to the administration's request, a senior Pentagon official said that defense industry lobbyists began prowling the halls pitching their projects to sympathetic ears.
"It is just very unseemly, while we've got this operation underway and ethnic Albanian refugees pouring out of Kosovo, to all of a sudden have this kind of scene, with all these guys trying to sell stuff," the official said. "This is in danger of turning into a porky pig contest."
The Republican calls for more spending came only two months after Clinton submitted a defense budget plan that reflected a $12.6 billion increase over what the administration had previously planned to spend in fiscal 2000. Over the next six years, Clinton proposed adding $112 billion on top of earlier projections.
Clinton said the extra money was needed to improve benefits for troops, alleviate spare parts shortages, finance ongoing operations in Bosnia and the Persian Gulf, and produce a new generation of weaponry, including a system for shielding the United States against ballistic missile attack.
A centerpiece of the plan included the biggest pay hike for troops since 1982 and a restoration of pension benefits cut in 1986, all part of an effort to stem a mounting exodus of people from military ranks.
Even then, the Senate moved quickly to approve a bill offering a 4.8 percent across-the-board pay increase for service members, exceeding Clinton's proposed 4.4 percent. Both Republicans and Democrats in Lewis's hearing yesterday suggested adding a pay raise to the emergency bill.
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