Efforts by Senate Republicans to trim defense spending hit a snag Wednesday when Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, announced that he would accept whatever increase President Reagan wants in the Pentagon budget.
"He's the commander in chief," Goldwater said of the President. "I listen to him."
Goldwater's attitude presents a major obstacle for Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.), who had asked committee chairmen to submit to him by Friday their estimates for reducing spending below the Reagan budget. Using these figures, Dole hopes to draft a budget $50 billion less than the one the President is scheduled to present to Congress Feb. 4 for fiscal 1986.
Not only did Goldwater indicate that he does not intend to submit a lower defense spending proposal to Dole by Friday, but he suggested that he would not mind if the military budget were allowed to rise higher than the 5.7% increase requested by the Pentagon.
"I would like to see a higher figure, but 5.7%, 5.8% or even 6% is a figure we can meet without doing any damage to the economy," Goldwater said.
At the same time, Goldwater said he still believes that the budget can be trimmed by closing some U.S. military bases and canceling the MX missile. President Reagan has argued that the MX is necessary to the nation's defense.
Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.), chairman of the Finance Committee, echoed Goldwater's view on Pentagon budget increases, saying: "Personally, I'm more inclined to go along with the President on defense."
But Packwood quickly added that "there needs to be a general feeling of shared sacrifice and the perception that defense is sharing in the burden. You won't reach a consensus in Congress without defense being part of the package."
Opposition from Goldwater and others is forcing Dole to back away from one of his original objectives: a freeze in defense spending at current levels. In addition, Dole has found that he cannot meet his self-imposed deadline to complete work on the Senate GOP budget plan by Feb. 1, three days before the President's budget is to be submitted to Congress.
"There's no magic in that date," Dole insisted Wednesday.
Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.), chairman of the Budget Committee, also acknowledged that the deadline could not be met. "If you think we're going to have a detailed budget plan by Feb. 1 with all the specifics, you're mistaken," he said.
But Domenici insisted that the Senate GOP leadership will be close to agreement on their own budget by then.
"We will have some very good reports, a lot of ideas and a lot of specifics to get us on the way," he said. Domenici said his committee still could have a budget package ready for consideration on the Senate floor by early March, much earlier than usual.
Despite Goldwater's statement, Domenici and Dole held out hope that the Armed Services Committee chairman would change his mind on defense spending. "Sen. Goldwater will be cooperative," Dole told reporters after a meeting with the committee chairmen. "We don't see any effort by any committee chairman to sidetrack what we're doing."
Dole said he also is encouraged by a statement Tuesday by House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) that "all issues are on the table" in the discussion of budget cuts. Democratic leaders have been resisting efforts by Senate Republicans to freeze Social Security benefits.
"I believe the Democrats believe they can't take a walk on deficit reduction," he said. "We're going to have a lot of bipartisan effort."