President Bush’s new nominee for defense secretary, Rep. Dick Cheney (R-Wyo.), has in the past supported a plan strongly opposed by the Pentagon that would require the U.S. military to halt drug smuggling over the nation’s southern border.
Cheney’s vote for the proposal, which was approved by the House last May 5 over the opposition of then-Defense Secretary Frank C. Carlucci and was later weakened in the Senate, is one of many defense-related issues on which he surely will be quizzed during confirmation hearings by the Senate Armed Services Committee, beginning this week.
A review by The Times of Cheney’s House votes and statements on defense issues found that while he consistently backed the Ronald Reagan Administration’s military buildup over the last eight years, few of the positions he took as a House member would clash with the majority opinion on the Democratic-controlled Armed Services Committee.
One Vote Most at Odds
Perhaps the one Pentagon-related vote by Cheney over the last year that conflicts most sharply with the views of Armed Services Committee members is the one he cast for a GOP-inspired amendment ordering the secretary of defense to “substantially halt the unlawful penetration of United States borders by aircraft and vessels carrying narcotics within 45 days of enactment.”
The House-passed drug interdiction proposal was strongly opposed not only by Carlucci but also by Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), who a year earlier had entertained spectators in the Senate gallery by ridiculing the idea in the starkest terms possible--detailing the enormous quantities of military personnel and equipment that would have to be diverted from normal duties to halt drug trafficking across U.S. borders.
Nunn, in negotiations last May with Carlucci and Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), the committee’s ranking Republican, eventually came up with a compromise acceptable to the House leadership that increased the Defense Department’s role in drug interdiction, but only marginally.
Glenn Criticizes Posturing
On the Senate floor, Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio), a member of the Armed Services Committee, criticized both the House-passed amendment and the Senate compromise as nothing more than political posturing in a year that many members of Congress were facing reelection.
Pete Williams, House press secretary for Cheney, said Saturday he does not know if the nominee still supports the anti-drug plan that he voted for last year or whether he would press for an increased military role in drug interdiction as defense secretary.
In response to such questions, Williams quoted Cheney as saying on Saturday: “With respect to my votes and positions during my years in Congress, I have said I would not discuss policy prior to my appearance before the Congress.”
Cheney, who was nominated Friday only one day after the Senate rejected Bush’s first nominee, John Tower, spent the weekend poring through briefing papers provided by the Administration on defense issues likely to be raised in confirmation hearings by the Armed Services Committee.
No Date Set for Hearing
No date has yet been announced for the start of Cheney’s confirmation hearings, but Williams said the nominee expects them to begin as early as Tuesday.
In the hearings, Cheney is likely to be questioned about his prolific public statements and writings defending the prerogatives of the executive branch as well has his many votes on defense-related issues in the House.
Just last year, Cheney voted in favor of spending nearly $5 billion on Reagan’s “Star Wars” nuclear defense system, $650 million to deploy the MX missile on railroad cars and $350 million for the small intercontinental ballistic missile known as Midgetman. He also was a staunch advocate of aid to the Nicaraguan resistance and an outspoken foe of a proposal that would require the President to inform Congress of all covert actions within 48 hours.
Many Democratic members of the Armed Services Committee, as well as at least one Republican, Sen. William S. Cohen (R-Me.), are on record favoring the 48-hour provision, which passed the Senate last year but was never brought up for a vote in the House. Cheney’s opposition to it is consistent with his often-expressed view that Congress imposes too many constraints on the President.
Cheney has argued that the 48-hour rule is part of a “never-again” philosophy adopted by many members of Congress in the wake of the Iran-Contra affair. He has described it as “fatally flawed” because it would “deprive future presidents of all possible discretion under conditions Congress cannot possibly foresee.”
As a member of the Iran-Contra investigating committee, Cheney generally defended the Reagan Administration while acknowledging that mistakes were made by Reagan. A former White House chief of staff during the Gerald R. Ford Administration, he said he was not troubled by Lt. Col. Oliver L. North’s shredding of documents because all top officials destroyed sensitive documents.
Although the issue of Cheney’s support for Contra aid will probably be explored by the Armed Services Committee, it may not be dwelt upon in the hearings since the President has indicated that he has no plans to revive military assistance in the near future.
On “Star Wars,"the Strategic Defense Initiative, Cheney voted last year for an unsuccessful amendment to increase spending for development of the system to $4.9 billion in the current fiscal year--only $400 million more than was authorized by the Senate.
Opposes Funds Limit
But he opposed a successful amendment by Rep. John M. Spratt Jr. (D-S.C.) specifying that no more than 40% of the funds authorized for SDI could be used to develop a so-called “phase one,” using existing technology, for deployment as early as the 1990s.
Cheney also supported a defeated proposal authored by then-Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) to require the Pentagon to map out a plan for developing an accidental launch protection system that would include two ground-based anti-missile sites as well as space-based components. While no similar plan was offered in the Senate, Nunn has recently advocated redirecting SDI research to produce a system to guard against accidental launch.
One major issue facing Cheney as defense secretary is to allocate current funding between the MX rail garrison system supported strongly by conservative Republicans and the Midgetman favored by liberal Democrats. On this issue, his voting record provides no clear indication how he would settle the issue.
Supports MX Funding
While Cheney voted last year against a proposal by Rep. John G. Rowland (R-Conn.) to eliminate funding for the Midgetman, he nonetheless did support an amendment by Rep. William L. Dickinson (R-Ala.) intended to increase MX funding at the expense of the Midgetman program.
At the time, Cheney was quoted as accusing liberals of favoring Midgetman only as a part of a strategy to block deployment of any new strategic weapons. “Some of our colleagues never support the deployment of any additional capability on the grounds that there will always be something better in the future,” he said.
After voting for many of these amendments, Cheney last year voted against the overall House legislation authorizing $299.5 billion for the Pentagon during the current fiscal year. He offered no explanation for his vote.