Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger, appearing before a skeptical House Budget Committee, heatedly argued with lawmakers today over the Administration's defense budget and suggested that one congressman's "nice little free speech" was not exactly true.
Weinberger, testifying to the Democratic-led panel two days after the Senate Budget Committee rebuked President Reagan's planned increase in military spending, presented a long list of items--including aircraft, missiles, tanks and ships--he said would have to be canceled under a spending freeze.
"What you would be doing is crippling the continuation of the rearmament program," Weinberger said.
However, several members of the committee were not anywhere near being receptive to Weinberger's arguments.
'Country's Got a Problem'
"Mr. Secretary, this country's got a problem--neither our missiles nor our secretary of defense shoots straight," said Rep. Pat Williams (D-Mont.), contending that Weinberger had in the past issued gloomy predictions that had not come true.
Rep. Martin Frost (D-Tex.) said, "I believe you will find a bipartisan majority on this committee just as you found a bipartisan majority on the Senate committee" voting for a freeze.
Weinberger had his strongest words for Williams and the congressman's complaints that pay for the military had grown much faster than pay for their civilian counterparts.
"With all due respect," Weinberger said, "that chart on the pay is one of the most ridiculous presentations I've ever heard."
Weinberger contended that Williams' argument "denigrates and disregards the special services the military performs for us and enables us all to stay here and have our nice little free speech and our ability to make statements that are basically not true."
The Republican-led Senate Budget Committee on Monday rejected Reagan's recommendation for a 6% growth in military spending above inflation, approving instead a plan to allow the defense budget to grow only along with inflation in the next fiscal year.
Appearing with Weinberger today was Gen. John Vessey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who also argued strongly against a freeze, contending that if "you diddle with any part of (the defense budget)," the country's defense strategy will be weaker.