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GOP Budget Cutters Looking at Pentagon Too : Defense: Signs indicate that some party leaders are rethinking a large increase in military spending. Use of ‘the same microscope’ suggested for all programs.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a sign that some leading Republicans may be rethinking their commitment to a large increase in defense spending, the new chairman of the House Budget Committee said Saturday that the Pentagon should be put under “the same microscope” GOP budget cutters are using on other federal agencies.

Rep. John R. Kasich (R-Ohio), who is leading the GOP review of federal spending programs, said Republicans will still seek more Defense Department funding next year than the $246 billion sought by President Clinton. But he also indicated that there are savings to be found in procurement procedures and “duplicative commands,” and said the Pentagon needs to be “reinvented” along with the rest of the federal government.

“If we have to give more money to the Department of Defense, fine. But we’d better do it under the microscope. And we ought to be calling for procurement reform,” Kasich said in an interview on CNN’s “Evans & Novak” program.

While they seek to downsize government by slashing billions of dollars from social spending and regulatory programs, the Republicans now in charge of both the House and Senate are also arguing that the Clinton Administration has cut too much from defense--an argument that has received some support from recent reports of declines in combat readiness by some military units.

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“The breadth and variety of the problems are indicative of a more serious readiness problem than many would believe,” Rep. Floyd Spence (R-S.C.), the chairman of the new House National Security Committee, said in a review of the problems on Dec. 5.

Clinton was worried enough about the reports to add $25 billion last month to the $1.5 trillion that the Pentagon plans to seek from Congress in the next six fiscal years. Of that total, $2 billion was added to the $244 billion Clinton is planning to ask Congress to approve for the 1996 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

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Senior congressional Republicans, however, are calling for at least a $60-billion six-year increase, with an additional $15 billion going to the Pentagon in the next fiscal year.

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“We have always recommended in our budgets that we would spend $60 billion more than the President wanted to spend,” Kasich said.

Combat readiness, undermined when the Pentagon was forced to use funds from its training and maintenance accounts to underwrite peacekeeping and humanitarian missions in Somalia, Rwanda and Haiti, is one of two areas where GOP critics charge that the Administration has already cut too deeply.

The other area is procurement and new weapon systems, where the Republicans want more funding than Clinton has been willing to accept for an anti-missile defense network and other weapon systems.

Kasich, however, suggested that this is one area where he thought the Pentagon could be subject to some additional cuts.

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Pentagon spending “should be reviewed under the same microscope (as) everything else in the federal government . . . whether it’s weapon systems, duplicative commands or the services trying to maintain their own little empires,” he said.

In particular, he added, “we ought to be looking at . . . weapon systems, and there should be changes.”


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