The new Republican White House and Senate will deliver higher defense spending first and balanced budgets second, Sen. John G. Tower (R-Tex.) predicted yesterday in viewing the future from his new perspective as incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The new administration and Congress should start with a $33 billion addition to the $157 billion fiscal 1981 Pentagon budget still on the Hill and then move on to big increases every year after that, Tower said.
Those annual increases should range between 9 and 13 percent a year after allowing for inflation, Tower said in his first Washington news conference since the Republicans won control of the Senate last week. The increases Tower vowed to press for stand in contrast to the 5 percent "real" growth President Carter had promised to build into Pentagon budgets.
Tower conceded that such large increases in military spending might look like a speedup in the arms race with the Soviet Union. But he argued that willingness to run such a race would improve chances of negotiating a better strategic arms limitation treaty than the pending one, SALT II.
"We're probably going to have to renegotiate the whole thing," Tower said of SALT II. If he becomes chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee as expected, he would be influential in determining what kind of arms control treaty would be considered safe for the United States to sign.
Focusing on another controversial arms control issue, Tower predicted -- although he said there is no way he can be certain -- that Ronald Reagan would favor production of the neutron warhead for missiles deployed in Europe. That warhead, designed to kill troops without destroying as many structures as existing nuclear warheads, "would raise the threshold of risk to the Soviets," Tower said.
Looking at how much would be enough for defense beyond the current fiscal year, Tower said that the $1.25 trillion the Senate Budget Committee has projected for the five-year period of fiscal 1981 through 1985 "seems to me to be ball-park." That Senate projection calls for a $294 billion military budget by 1985, he noted.
Tower laid claim to a big slice of that trillion dollars by saying that, as committee chairman, he would press for:
Military pay -- add at least 2 percent to the 11.7 percent raise military should be raised to keep "at least even with inflation in future years." This is the only way to stem the exodus of experienced people from the services, he said.
Supplemental appropriation -- increase the pending Pentagon budget for fiscal 1981 by "as much as $3 billion." With this money he would finance pay raises for middle-grade military people, reserve war stocks, such as ammunition and spare parts, and extra fuel burned by the Navy in covering the Indian Ocean.
New bomber -- build a manned penetrating bomber that would "probably be a B1 derivative." President Carter canceled the Rockwell B1 bomber on the grounds that cruise missiles would have an easier time penetrating the Soviet Union. But Congress, uncomfortable about relying on the aged B52 bomber fleet, has ordered the Pentagon to recommend some kind of new bomber by March 15, 1981, and have the first one flying by 1987.
MX land missile -- continue developing this blockbuster without "foreclosing an alternative basing mode" to the current plan, which calls for hauling the MX around the valleys of Nevada and Utah.
Trident II submarine missile -- send this missile to sea as a follow to the Trident I, just starting to be deployed in U.S. submarines.
Fighter planes -- produce more of them than the Carter administration planned.
Navy shipbuilding -- accelerate the present pace.
Asked how Reagan could do all this for defense and still balance the budget, Tower replied, "We didn't put budget balancing as our number one problem. We put national security first." He said that budget balancing would come "ultimately."
However, he predicted that the alliance of Reagan and congressional lawmakers favoring a strong national defense would make the changes "in an orderly way. We can't do it in one year. It's going to take us four."
Cuts to offset the increases in defense programs would have to come from other agencies of government. "When Joe Califano admits to a waste of $7 billion in HEW [the old Department of Health, Education and Welfare] it must be twice that," Tower said.
Even if the United States takes Tower's advice and spends the $1.25 trillion over the next five years, the senator warned against expecting this investment to put the United States ahead of the Soviet Union militarily.
"I don't believe we could achieve superiority in the near term. It will probably take us 10 years," he said.
Echoing some of the phrasing of Reagan's campaign speeches, Tower said the objective should not be expressed in terms of achieving superiority over the Soviet Union but to build "a margin of safety" into the national defense. For example, he said, "We don't want a bigger land army than the Soviet Union. We wouldn't know what to do with it."
Tower is being discussed by the Reagan team as a possibility for the pose of secretary of defense. While not discussing his ambitions in that regard, Tower, when asked about how Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.) would be as secretary of defense, said he had "an enormous regard" for his Democratic colleague.
Tower, 55, son of a Methodist minister, said in an interview after the news conference that his biggest worry about the United States is its loss of leadership in the world. He said building the nation's military strength would be his first order of business in trying to restore that leadership.