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GOP and Democrats Clash in House on Defense Funds

TIMES STAFF WRITER

House Republicans, rushing to beat the White House in proposing extra defense spending, drafted emergency legislation Friday to provide $3.2 billion to help stave off projected cutbacks in military training and readiness.

The House Appropriations subcommittee on national security recommended a package that is about $600 million more than the $2.6 billion the Pentagon is expected to seek in a supplemental appropriations request on Feb. 6.

The move, pushed through by GOP leaders, was designed to demonstrate Republican resolve to maintain military preparedness. The money is intended to offset the expense of sending U.S. troops on peacekeeping missions, which is siphoning off funds for training and maintenance.

Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has warned that if the services do not get the additional money by March 31, they will be forced to cut badly needed training and defer maintenance on vital equipment, seriously eroding military preparedness.

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At the same time, however, the panel moved to limit the impact of the increase on the fiscal 1995 budget deficit by rescinding $1.4 billion worth of previous appropriations for other Pentagon programs, ranging from aid to Russia to cleanup of abandoned military bases.

By comparison, the Pentagon is expected to propose rescinding only about $700 million of those earlier appropriations--sparing most of the programs that the GOP-drafted legislation would rescind, including both the Russian aid package and environmental cleanup funds.

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Democrats were furious over the GOP push to step ahead of the White House. Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.), ranking Democrat on the panel, charged that much of the $600 million added to the package would go to the National Guard and lawmakers’ pet projects.

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“Doing this a day after the (House) vote for a constitutional amendment to balance the budget is the height of irresponsibility,” Obey said after the vote. GOP members declined to discuss details of the package until it is taken up by the full committee.

Also Friday in the House National Security (formerly Armed Services) Committee, Defense Secretary William J. Perry expressed vigorous opposition to a provision that would establish a new commission to set U.S. defense policy.

“You should not dilute the responsibilities of the secretary of defense by trying to turn a key part of them over to an independent commission,” Perry said. “If you find that I’m incapable or unwilling to meet those responsibilities, you should ask me to step down.”

The Administration vigorously opposes the measure, which is designed to limit the Administration’s ability to send U.S. troops into U.N. peacekeeping operations and force it to open the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

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Perry and Secretary of State Warren Christopher have warned that the GOP measure would destroy U.N. peacekeeping operations and hamstring American foreign policy. They also contend that early entry of former East Bloc countries into NATO would heighten tensions with Russia.

On Friday, Perry and Shalikashvili joined in disputing what they said was the basic premise of Republicans who are backing the overall proposal--that the nation’s military forces no longer are able to do the job.

American troop readiness has been tested many times in recent months “and not found wanting,” Shalikashvili told the National Security Committee. “Today, we are more watchful of readiness than at any time that I can recall.”


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