Seeking further savings from the declining Soviet threat, Democratic House and Senate leaders said Sunday that U.S. troop levels in Central Europe should be cut to about 100,000 within a few years, or roughly half the level proposed last week by President Bush.
But the suggestion by House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) and Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Me.) drew immediate fire from President Bush's chief of staff, John H. Sununu, who complained that Congress likes to up the ante but fails to deal with the consequences.
"The game is, always, whatever the White House lays out, they play 'call and raise' on the Hill," Sununu said in a televised interview. "They don't give any thought to substance," such as the impact of too-rapid reductions on the military.
In his State of the Union message last Wednesday, Bush proposed reducing the number of U.S. and Soviet troops stationed in the central zone of Europe to 195,000 for each side, although he suggested that the United States keep another 30,000 troops elsewhere on the Continent.
The United States currently has 255,000 troops in the central zone, while the Soviets have 570,000. Negotiators in Vienna had been considering a proposed level of 275,000 troops for each nation.
The White House has said that it wanted the 195,000 figure to be a floor, in order to reassure allies that U.S. troop strength would not enter into a "free-fall," as one Bush aide said, while Soviet forces are withdrawn from the region.
But in separate interviews Sunday, Foley and Mitchell indicated that their party wants to go much further than the Bush Administration in search of a bigger "peace dividend" from reduced defense spending.
"It's a good step forward," Foley said of the Bush proposal. But, he added, "I don't think it's where we will be eventually."
Foley, who appeared with Sununu on ABC's "This Week with David Brinkley," noted that former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger said recently that American forces could be reduced to about 75,000. In the past, Schlesinger opposed deep cuts in U.S. troops in Europe.
Foley said his own view is that "we will have something closer to 100,000 than 195,000 troops in Central Europe in a matter of a few years."
Similarly, Mitchell said he thought the figure would be "somewhere in the range of 100,000" by the end of next year.
Mitchell, interviewed on NBC's "Meet the Press," said the reductions should be addressed as part of negotiations between the NATO alliance and the Warsaw Pact at the talks on conventional forces in Europe now under way in Vienna.
As the Warsaw Pact nations continue to adopt more democratic governments and reduce their ties to Moscow, there is a general expectation that virtually all Soviet forces will be removed from Eastern Europe within a few years.
Hungary and Czechoslovakia have asked that Moscow, by the end of 1990, withdraw the 78,000 and 60,000 Soviet troops, respectively, stationed within their boundaries. Solidarity leader Lech Walesa has urged the Warsaw government to make the same demand regarding the 38,000 Soviet troops in Poland.
Moscow's largest troop contingent is in East Germany, where 380,000 are stationed.
"We expect over the course of the next year or two we can get most of those Soviet divisions out of (East) Germany," Defense Secretary Dick Cheney said in a televised interview. The withdrawal is likely to begin after next month's elections, he said.
Faced with a dwindling Soviet presence in the East Bloc, the Administration is being pressed to justify the 195,000 figure proposed by Bush.
Sununu complained that further cuts, such as those necessary to provide the 100,000 total suggested by Foley and Mitchell, would be premature and even irresponsible. He cited previous reductions undertaken during the Democratic administration of former President Jimmy Carter.
"The last time we were irresponsible in dismantling our military system, in the 1976 to 1980 period, we ended up with an Army that couldn't fight, ships that couldn't sail and soldiers that couldn't meet their responsibilities," Sununu said.
Cheney, appearing on CBS's "Face the Nation," said the level of 195,000 proposed by Bush was "about right," although he noted that the Administration "continuously rethinks" its decisions. "This is a responsible number for the foreseeable future," he said.
U.S. forces will remain in Europe only as long as they are welcome, Cheney said. He noted that West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl has "enthusiastically endorsed the 195,000" figure.