The Senate, responding to President Reagan’s veto of defense legislation last week, approved a $282.6-billion defense bill Thursday that includes non-military aid for the Nicaraguan rebels and new restrictions on defense industry consultants.
The bill, passed by a vote of 90 to 4, will be sent to a conference committee to iron out differences with the House’s defense legislation when Congress returns next month from a three-week recess.
By voice vote, the Senate also approved restrictions on spending for American troops overseas as a message to U.S. allies to do more for allied defense. The provision orders a major review by the Pentagon of U.S. overseas commitments, limitations on the size of U.S. troop deployments to Japan and South Korea, and a new ceiling on spending for U.S. military personnel stationed overseas.
U.S. allies would be required to pay for the American troops if the costs rise above the 1988 levels.
Although the White House declared that a Democratic plan for aid to the Contras was “minimally acceptable,” Reagan may veto the defense bill again if the final version includes cutbacks in his Strategic Defense Initiative and other arms control provisions he opposes.
In an unusual move, the Senate added to the $282.6-billion defense appropriations bill its previously passed defense authorization bill, which addresses arms control issues. The two measures are normally considered separately.
Since the Senate’s $299.5-billion authorization bill has fewer arms control restrictions than the tougher compromise measure that was worked out with the House and later vetoed by Reagan, the action now sets in motion the process for new negotiations with the House on a final plan.
Talks to Focus on SDI
Those talks are expected to focus heavily on SDI, the President’s missile defense plan popularly known as “Star Wars,” and other strategic weapons. The House has favored tougher arms control limits on the Administration.
The extraordinary parliamentary tangle came against a background of jockeying for political advantage in the presidential election campaign. In the Senate debate, for example, Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.) declared that the Senate’s overwhelming vote for the bill on its final passage “repudiates” Democratic candidate Michael S. Dukakis’ defense policies.
Nickles said the legislation provided funds for Midgetman and MX missile systems, the B-1 bomber and $3.7 billion for Reagan’s SDI--all of which Dukakis opposes.
The President clearly favors the Senate defense authorization bill but he said the House prevailed too often the last time a compromise agreement was reached. Despite the protests of Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), who defended the bill that Reagan vetoed, the President said it moved away from strength toward weakness.
His veto was widely regarded as an attempt to dramatize the defense issue and help Vice President George Bush, the Republican candidate, in his race against Dukakis for the White House.
Authorizes Contra Aid
Besides a full range of massive Pentagon programs, the bill authorizes $27-million worth of food, clothing, medicine and other non-combat aid for the Contra forces and sets up a process that could result in the shipment of $16-million worth of arms if Reagan requests it and Congress approves in a vote next month.
In the first legislation triggered by the Pentagon procurement scandal, the Senate adopted an amendment by Sen. David Pryor (D-Ark.) that would require Defense Department consultants to register and disclose their corporate and foreign clients for the previous three years to expose possible conflicts of interest.
In addition, the consultants would have to disclose any criminal convictions and to certify that they are in compliance with federal laws against “revolving door” employment of former Pentagon officials.
“We want to find out how many sides of the street they are working,” said Pryor, noting recent disclosures that some consultants worked simultaneously for the Pentagon and for private corporations seeking military contracts.
Although some Republicans were reluctant to accept Pryor’s proposal, they did not raise objections and it was adopted by voice vote.
The Pentagon money bill was the 13th and last appropriations bill approved by the Senate this year, but the partisan struggle over defense issues may prevent the adoption of a final measure that will get Reagan’s approval before Congress adjourns in early October.
In that case, funds would be provided to the Pentagon under a “continuing resolution” based on the current year’s outlays until the Congress can adopt a defense funding bill acceptable to the new President in 1989.
The Senate bill provides a 4.3% raise for military personnel, effective Jan. 1, and provides funds for the Air Force’s secret stealth bomber.
Unlike the House, which gave $600 million to the Midgetman single-warhead missile in its bill, the Senate allocated almost $700 million for the rail-mobile MX missile. The compromise bill vetoed by Reagan provided $250 million for each system and another $250 million to be placed in escrow until the next President decided which missile he wanted.