Military Budget Won’t Suffer, Weinberger Says : Defense Chief Adamantly Refuses to Scale Back Plans to Boost Spending Because of Senate Shift
Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger rejected suggestions Thursday that his efforts to increase the defense budget will suffer setbacks in a Democratic-controlled Senate, and adamantly refused to trim his future spending requests in the anticipation of stiffer opposition.
“I’m not going to approach it realistically. If I did, we would be in vastly worse shape than we are today,” he said.
Weinberger, who has presided over the Reagan Administration’s more than $1-trillion defense buildup, has faced increasing opposition in Congress over the last two years and has been criticized for refusing to offer compromise budget proposals that would help avoid the annual clashes between the Administration and Congress over defense spending.
In recent years, the Senate and House have sharply trimmed the funds allocated to the Pentagon, with the Democratic majority in the House working out compromises with Senate Republicans, while Reagan and Weinberger decried any attempts to reduce the amounts they have sought.
In an interview with a group of reporters in his Pentagon office suite Thursday, Weinberger made it clear that the Democratic victories in Tuesday’s election, which will produce a Democratic margin of 55 to 45 in the Senate, will not lead him to lower his sights.
“I’m not assuming there’s automatically a lot more opposition or that there’s automatically going to be a worse result for defense,” Weinberger said. “You can’t say that because some people weren’t elected, therefore you have to trim your budget way down.”
The defense secretary defended his past refusals to compromise, and said: “I don’t think any purpose is served by saying, ‘We really need this, but it isn’t realistic to ask for it . . . so I’m going to ask for a lot less and I’ll gain a victory.’ The question is what do we need and can the Congress be persuaded of that?”
No Blow to ‘Star Wars’ Seen
The Pentagon chief also said that the Strategic Defense Initiative, the program to develop a space-based missile defense system commonly known as “Star Wars,” would not necessarily suffer under the Democrats.
Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), who is likely to become chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was the architect of a compromise that reduced funding for the program in the current budget. He has supported continued research, but has pressed the Administration to better define its goals for strategic defense and favors building up conventional defenses.
“I’m not assuming that because a person wears a particular party label, they’re against strategic defense,” Weinberger said.
Weinberger also made it clear that the Administration has not given up hope that it can win congressional approval to deploy as many as 100 MX missiles.
Deployment of 50 Approved
In the legislation authorizing spending for defense programs in the current fiscal year, President Reagan’s request of $1.4 billion for 21 MX missiles was cut to $1.1 billion for 12 missiles. These weapons can be used only for tests and are not allowed to carry warheads. Overall, Congress has approved deployment of no more than 50 of the missiles.
“We need the second 50,” Weinberger said, adding that the Administration would adhere to a congressional order that it recommend alternatives to basing the 10-warhead weapon in silos that once housed Minuteman missiles. Critics say that these silos could not withstand strikes by Soviet missiles.