Stealth Bomber Hopes Get Lift in Defense Bill
The military’s bomber force gets a significant lift from the $263.8-billion compromise defense bill approved Thursday by House and Senate negotiators.
Details of the plan show lawmakers anxious to protect the fleet from cuts and to keep alive the possibility of building more B-2 Stealth bombers.
The legislation requires final votes in the House and Senate and President Clinton’s signature before becoming law. Lawmakers said they hoped Congress could send the measure to Clinton next week.
Later Thursday, the Senate passed, 86 to 14, a defense appropriations bill for 1995. This separate legislation provides the funding for the weapons, personnel and programs detailed in the compromise measure. The House has already passed its defense appropriations bill, and differences between the two will have to be worked out in negotiations.
House and Senate negotiators fought bitterly over the B-2, with House members insisting that Congress should stand by its 1992 decision to build no more than the 20 B-2s already ordered, for $44.4 billion. The Senate, supported by Northrop Grumman Corp., which builds the B-2 in Southern California, sought $150 million to keep the specialized subcontractors of the airplane going.
In the end, the negotiators agreed to provide $25 million to study the nation’s bomber needs and $100 million to “preserve core capabilities.” At the defense secretary’s discretion, some of that money could go to B-2 subcontractors or toward the development of a new bomber.
Both sides claimed victory.
“I believe that this course of action should ensure that we will meet our bomber requirements without making a future purchase of B-2s,” said Rep. Ronald V. Dellums (D-Oakland), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and a staunch B-2 foe.
Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the amendment does what the Senate wanted. If the government orders more Stealth bombers, they will cost substantially less as a result of the decision to keep key subcontractors going, he said.
The agreement, while representing only a tiny fraction of the overall defense budget, sets the stage for fierce debate next year, should the Clinton Administration change its position and decide to ask for more B-2s. Clinton’s long-term defense plan, the so-called bottom-up review, says that 107 bombers would be enough to meet future military threats.
The final bill includes $136 million to keep the current fleet of B-1 and B-52 bombers intact. Some of that money would also go toward modifying air-launched cruise missiles and speeding up purchases of precision weapons.
Also included in the House-Senate agreement is a 2.6% military pay raise, up from the 1.6% raise requested by Clinton.