The House Appropriations Committee, moving to implement the broad budget package approved by Congress hours earlier, yesterday added $5.3 billion to its 1991 defense spending bill and began the search for potential cuts in domestic programs.
The defense increase, agreed to by top Democrats in budget negotiations with the White House, came as no surprise. But the action nonetheless provoked protests from several liberal members and indicated lingering annoyance over the summit deal.
Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.), one of 15 committee Democrats who voted against the initial summit package, told members the revised budget resolution approved early yesterday did not require full funding of the defense allocation.
"The numbers were to be regarded as ceilings, not floors," he said. But Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the Appropriations defense subcommittee, retorted: "We recognize reality -- that we have to deal with the Senate and the White House."
Rep. Joseph M. McDade (Pa.), ranking Republican on the Murtha subcommittee, noted that the 1991 defense bill is already "veto bait" because it fails to reach White House levels of funding for strategic programs such as the B-2 "stealth" bomber and the Strategic Defense Initiative.
The reallocation of more funds to defense under the new budget package means less money for non-military bills on the House side, since the overall pot of funds for all programs remains about the same.
The revised $268.2 billion defense bill closely follows House Armed Services Committee recommendations on major systems. It cancels further production of the B-2 but preserves $1.56 billion to complete the Air Force's testing program. It allows $300 million for advanced development of the Army's top-priority light helicopter, but also provides $403 million for the V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft that the Navy wants to terminate.
Navy shipbuilding programs, which generate powerful support from Virginia and New England legislators, were cut back but kept alive. Funds were provided for an 18th Trident submarine and one new SSN-21 attack submarine in 1991. However, the administration's request for $4.2 billion for SDI was cut almost in half -- to $2.3 billion -- and could face deeper cuts on the House floor.
Final allocations within the defense spending measure will depend in part on separate negotiations underway between House and Senate conferees on the 1991 defense authorization bill. Panels have been meeting almost daily to resolve major differences on SDI, the B-2, missile defenses and the Milstar communications satellite program.
The amended appropriations bill of $268.2 billion is about $18 billion below the 1990 measure, but $5.3 billion above the level assumed by a House-passed resolution earlier this year.
Under the budget deal, costs of Operation Desert Shield in the Persian Gulf region are not included in the bill. Several lawmakers implied that this was a major gimmick that hid the true size of the 1991 deficit.
Obey protested that "the administration is leading us down a ludicrous path" by exempting it. Rep. Bob Traxler (D-Mich.), in an emotion-charged speech, warned that "Desert Shield will eat up most of what you're doing on deficit reduction."
Under an amendment offered by Murtha, the $5.3 billion in additional funds was restored to programs of special interest to committee members. At the request of Rep. Tom Bevill (D-Ala.), about $99 million was put back for research on a fiber-optic-guided anti-tank and helicopter missile being developed by a Boeing plant in Huntsville, Ala. Another $850 million was added for carrier renovations at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.
The inclusion of an additional $500 million for military sealift operations reflected one of Murtha's top priorities.