Senate Passes $261-Billion Defense Spending Bill
The Senate completed work Tuesday on a $261.3-billion defense spending bill to provide President Clinton with essentially what he has asked to reshape the military for the post-Cold War world and write into law his policy on homosexuals in the armed forces.
The broad legislation, which passed 92 to 7, would continue the steady but gradual reduction in the military budget that began in 1985. The measure covers military spending for fiscal 1994, which begins Oct. 1.
The action came after senators defeated or tabled a spate of minor last-minute amendments. California’s two senators, both Democrats, split over the legislation. Dianne Feinstein voted in favor of the bill; Barbara Boxer opposed it.
Despite the budget squeeze, neither chamber seemed prepared to trim the defense bill much below the relatively modest cuts that Clinton had proposed. Lawmakers were reluctant to slash spending more sharply, partly because of uncertainty in the world situation.
The House is working on a similar bill that it hopes to pass early next week. A House-Senate conference committee then will iron out the few differences.
The action came as, separately, Defense Secretary Les Aspin told Congress that the policy changes recommended in his newly unveiled “bottom-up review” of defense policy could be accomplished essentially in line with Clinton’s previous defense budget proposal.
In testimony before the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee, Aspin estimated that the recommendations would cost an average of $2.6 billion a year--or $13 billion over five years--more than Clinton has been seeking.
He said that the Administration would offer proposals in January for how to make up the $2.6-billion-a-year shortfall.
However, officials conceded that the Administration’s budget plan does not include some $18 billion over five years to help finance a 2.2% pay increase for military personnel that is contained in the Senate bill. Clinton has proposed freezing military pay in fiscal 1994.
That, along with expectations of increased military costs for U.S. participation in U.N. peacekeeping ventures--possibly including Bosnia--led several lawmakers to question whether the Administration’s estimates are optimistic.
In one exchange, when Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), chairman of the panel, told Aspin that “your budget might not be realistic,” the secretary replied: “I realize that.” But he declined to elaborate on that comment.
Both the Senate and House bills closely follow Clinton’s overall defense spending plan, including most of the recommendations stemming from the bottom-up review.
Along with its other provisions, the legislation eliminates the Navy’s proposed A/F-X fighter and Air Force multi-role fighter and cancels production of the Air Force F-16 fighter after fiscal 1994. It also permits the Navy to maintain 11 carrier battle groups.
There also was relatively little controversy over the issue of gays in the military, which had become a front-burner issue before mid-July, when Clinton announced his new “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
The Senate backed a series of provisions drafted by Nunn that essentially wrote Clinton’s new policy into law.
Under the President’s plan, the Pentagon will stop actively trying to root out homosexuals but will continue to restrict their behavior.