The House Armed Services Committee has voted to hold next year's increase in defense spending to the rate of inflation, slashing or killing several key weapons programs in President Reagan's budget request, Chairman Les Aspin (D-Wis.) said yesterday.
The committee, working in closed session this week, authorized a defense package of $303 billion for fiscal 1986, about $20 billion below Reagan's original request. That would leave the Pentagon with a so-called "zero real growth" budget, permitting spending at this year's rate plus a small increase for inflation.
The Senate Armed Services Committee had voted a 3 percent increase, after inflation, but the full Senate then approved a zero-growth proposal, after inflation -- similar to the House panel's action.
Reagan, who initially proposed an increase of 6 percent above inflation, agreed to the no-growth proposal yesterday in an effort to win passage of a compromise budget-reduction plan working its way through the Senate last night.
Among significant cuts approved by the House committee were $1.2 billion of the $3.7 billion requested for research on the president's "Star Wars" missile defense system and $197 million of the $480 million sought for the Divad antiaircraft battlefield weapon. The panel also approved production of 21 additional MX missiles instead of the 48 requested, reducing appropriations in this area from $3.2 billion to $2.1 billion.
Thirty weapons-procurement programs were killed, including the advanced medium-range air-to-air missile (AMRAAM), whose costs were expected to be triple original projections.
Aspin, reflecting Congress' increasingly skeptical view of the president's defense buildup, said his normally hawkish panel wants "more defense, not more production lines. We seek to fund military requirements, not bureaucratic wish lists. Our goal is to increase the level of deterrence, not the number of contracts."
Rep. William L. Dickinson (R-Ala.), the committee's ranking minority member, said the huge federal deficit requires that "we set some priorities. We have funded necessities, not nice-to-haves."
The panel agreed to the requested purchase of 48 B1 bombers for $6 billion to complete the 100 plane fleet -- the largest single item in the president's budget -- and it approved $124.5 million sought by the administration to modernize the aging U.S. nerve-gas stockpile, defeating an amendment to delete funds for new chemical weapons.
Aspin won approval of his amendment to cut $4 billion from the $18.2 billion request for the military retirement fund, a move he said is intended to force the Pentagon to revise the costly pension program.
In killing the 30 weapons-procurement programs, for which the administration was seeking about $2 billion, the panel is said to have established a new record for itself. It cited escalating costs as the reason for eliminating funds for the two biggest projects -- $540 million for AMRAAM and $500 million for the P3C Orion submarine hunter.
In addition to cutting more than half of the funds requested for the controversial Divad antiaircraft weapon, the panel voted to freeze the remaining money until the secretary of defense certifies that the weapon has fulfilled its performance specifications