U.S. Defense Funds Asked for Soviets
A leading House Democrat and a prominent Senate Republican said Wednesday that funds earmarked for U.S. defense needs should be used to send food and medicine to the Soviet Union this winter to help avert chaos and show support for proponents of reform.
But the funding shift advocated by Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.) and Sen. John C. Danforth (R-Mo.) drew immediate Pentagon opposition as debate flared over whether the new wave of revolutionary changes in the Soviet Union should compel even deeper cuts in U.S. military spending.
“During the Cold War, the threat was a deliberate Soviet attack,” Aspin, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told a news conference. “Now, the bigger threat seems to be chaos in a nation with 30,000 nuclear weapons.”
Aspin proposed financing $1 billion in humanitarian aid for the Soviet Union from unspecified parts of a $291-billion defense authorization bill for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. Senate and House conferees will begin final work on the measure after Congress returns from its summer recess Sept. 10.
In a separate statement, Danforth, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that such assistance could “stave off mass suffering” and “shore up the political position of reform-minded leaders” in the Soviet Union. He did not suggest a specific dollar amount of aid, however.
In an interview, the Missourian said that any food and medicine provided to the Soviets “could be more than paid for from cuts in the defense budget.”
President Bush, vacationing in Kennebunkport, Me., was noncommittal when asked if he is ready to provide expanded food aid for the Soviets. “Not yet,” he said. “But as we said with the prime minister of Canada (Brian Mulroney), we want to do our part on that.”
Aspin contended that the funding shift could be accomplished without violating last year’s budget agreement between Congress and the White House. The accord prohibits transferring money among domestic, defense and international affairs programs through fiscal 1993, but Aspin suggested that the Soviet aid legitimately could be classified as defense spending.
“It is defense by different means,” he said.
But the proposed funding shift was denounced by Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, who said that it would violate the budget pact. The proposal also was assailed by Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.), who called it a dangerous “raid” on the defense budget.
“The coup should have taught us that the Soviets still have a huge nuclear arsenal,” Dole said. “It is imperative that we keep our eyes wide open and our guard up.”
Dole conceded that humanitarian aid could be sent to the Soviet Union if order is threatened but he said that the funds should be taken from the $15-billion foreign aid budget, not from the Pentagon.
Danforth and House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) both called for breaking the budget agreement next year so that money already earmarked for defense in fiscal 1993 can be shifted to other purposes.
“The budget agreement reached last year with such agony is obsolete,” Danforth said. “Clearly, the likelihood of our going to war with the Soviet Union today is zero and will be for as far as we can see.”
Danforth did not specify how he thought defense cuts could be applied in the long term. But he said he agrees with Bush that the question of long-term economic aid to the Soviets has to await major movement toward a market-oriented economy.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Gephardt suggested taking $1 billion to $3 billion from the Pentagon budget to finance long-term credits, loan guarantees and other forms of non-cash assistance to the Soviets after major reforms in their economy.
Times staff writers Michael Ross and John M. Broder contributed to this story.