Because of a computer error, a portion was dropped from an article yesterday on the agreement congressional conferees reached on the defense authorization bill. In essence, the missing portion said that the House-Senate negotiators authorized $1.8 billion for research and development of the B-2 bomber and $2.3 billion for procurement of the planes but did not specifically authorize purchase of two new bombers, as the Bush administration had sought. The House had voted to end B-2 procurement at 15 planes previously authorized; the Senate had voted to approve production of two more planes, and there is disagreement over whether the conferees' action will allow the Air Force to procure more bombers. The conferees also cut President Bush's $4.7 billion request for the Strategic Defense Initiative to $2.9 billion and steered funding away from exotic schemes aimed at the Soviet Union and toward defenses for expected regional conflicts. (Published 10/19/90)
House and Senate negotiators yesterday completed a cautious blueprint for ushering the country out of the Cold War that squeezes and delays, but fails to kill any of the major weapons programs developed over the past decade to counter military threats from the Soviet Union.
The $289 billion defense authorization bill for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, down from $295.6 billion last year, was approved by House-Senate conferees after three weeks of negotiations. It allocates $4.1 billion for the costly, controversial B-2 "stealth" bomber program. The bill allows research as well as construction to continue on the 15 planes already authorized, but delays a decision on whether to terminate the remainder of a planned 75-plane fleet.
It proposes to slash spending for the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) from $3.8 billion to $2.9 billion and to restructure the missile defense research program, commonly known as "Star Wars," by slowing plans for early deployment of tiny rockets in space and shifting emphasis to less exotic defenses.
The compromise, which now must be approved by the full House and Senate, also would reduce proposed spending on land-based nuclear missiles, cut or delay spending on a half-dozen other major weapons programs and reduce U.S. troop strength by 100,000, including 50,000 in Europe, as the first installment of a 500,000-troop cutback over the next five years.
In all, the bill provides $18 billion less than President Bush proposed in his January budget.
In their separate considerations of the proposal during the months that followed, the House had attempted to kill some programs, and the Senate tried to kill others. In the final compromise, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) said, "We kept most of them . . . that may be a weakness of this bill."
Although the year started with demands by some leaders in Congress for radical changes in the way the Pentagon spends its money, Iraq's invasion of Kuwait gave some lawmakers second thoughts about the depths of cuts. The zeal to cut military spending was blunted in part by election-year worries about hometown employment if scores of defense contractors were hit by massive budget cuts.
The result of almost a year of haggling over a "peace dividend," sparked by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, is a budget that does not significantly reshape the Cold War military strategies of the past 40 years.
Congressional reluctance to kill any major weapons systems was underscored by inclusion of $403 million for the tilt-rotor V-22 "Osprey" aircraft that Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney had asked be terminated. Its defenders contend the V-22 would be useful in the kind of regional, post-Cold War conflicts exemplified by the current situation in the Persian Gulf.
"I think you're seeing the beginning of the end of a lot of these weapons systems," said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Les Aspin (D-Wis.), who had argued the B-2 should be killed. "But you don't turn it on and turn it off that quickly." Congress is "in transition" between cutting expenditures aimed at countering Soviet threats and "gearing up to increase funds to help meet Third World contingencies," such as Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, he added.
"While it's cautious, it's progress," said Gordon Adams, director of the Defense Budget Project, a private watchdog group. "They didn't bite the bullet on cancellations, but they did defer some programs, they did open the door to some tough decisions in the future."
The continuing deadlock between the House and Senate over the fate of the B-2 illustrates their inclination to postpone those "tough choices," even if it means spending billions of dollars a year to build more weapons while they make up their minds.
In a delicate compromise that amounted to an agreement to disagree, the House-Senate negotiators authorized $1.8 billion for research and development on the batwinged, radar-evasive aircraft and another $2.3 billion for procurement of planes. But it did not specifically authorize the two new planes -- in addition to the 15 already approved -- that Bush wanted authorized this year, or sanction spending for future procurement.
Speaking for the House, which had voted earlier to terminate the program after completion of the 15 planes, Aspin said this means that the Pentagon cannot build two more. In any case, he said, most if not all of the procurement funds will be required to cover shortfalls and cost overruns for the 15.
"Time is on our side," said Aspin, contending that opposition to the program is growing steadily and could lead to a decision to limit production to a figure close to 15 planes by next year.
But in the Senate, which had approved production of the two additional planes in its own version of the pre-conference bill, Nunn and Sen. John W. Warner (Va.), ranking Republican on the armed services panel, said the compromise did not bar the Pentagon from adding to the B-2 fleet if it chose to do so. He and Warner said they believe the funding would be sufficient to cover two more planes.
"The essence is that the B-2 program is alive and well . . . but it's got to prove itself next year or it will be in great difficulty," Nunn said, referring to performance and other tests that the plane must pass before more money can be spent on procurement.
For SDI, the allocation of $2.9 billion represented a cut of nearly $2 billion from Bush's request of $4.7 billion. The administration also had vigorously opposed the Senate's attempt, incorporated in the conference agreement, to steer funding away from exotic early deployment schemes aimed at the Soviets to more mundane defenses tailored to the expected regional conflicts of the future.
The conferees also denied procurement funds for the rail-based MX nuclear missile, providing research funds only for the 10-warhead MX and the proposed single-warhead Midgetman missiles.
Staff writer Molly Moore contributed to this report.