The House approved a Republican-crafted bill Thursday that would boost Pentagon spending by a hefty $9.5 billion next year over what President Clinton has requested and would substantially revamp the Administration's military budget.
The $267.3-billion defense authorization for fiscal 1996, which begins Oct. 1, provides more money for such touchstone Republican agenda items as military readiness, weapons modernization and development of a national defense system to protect against a ballistic missile attack.
It would also slash funding for a spate of smaller programs that the President has singled out as important, including helping Russia to disarm its nuclear weapons and building a third Seawolf submarine, which Clinton says is needed to preserve the industrial base for defense.
Passage came on a vote of 300 to 126, ending three days of floor action during which Republicans beat back Democratic attempts to reaffirm support for the 23-year-old U.S.-Soviet Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty and to kill extra money for the B-2 Stealth bomber program.
The bill now goes to the Senate, where the Armed Services Committee is expected to begin drafting its own, somewhat less-costly version of the bill. The Senate budget resolution calls for limiting defense spending to $257.8 billion, the same amount Clinton has requested.
The House action climaxed months of Republican criticism that the Administration had neglected military readiness and decided to cut funds for weapons modernization.
Rep. Floyd Spence (R-S.C.), chairman of the House National Security Committee and floor manager of the bill, said that by enacting the legislation, House Republicans had kept their promise in the "contract with America" to revitalize the nation's defense program.
"This bill begins to bridge the huge gap between the Administration's national security strategy and the defense resources needed to implement that strategy," Spence declared in a statement following the final vote.
In an unexpected development, House Democrats did not even try to challenge several key provisions that the Administration had opposed, including orders to cut 30,000 civilian jobs from Pentagon rosters and slash subsidies for development of technologies that can be used for civilian as well as military applications.
Eighty-six Democrats joined 214 Republicans in voting for the measure, while 110 Democrats and 15 Republicans voted no. Rep. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, the chamber's only independent, voted against the legislation.
Some $4.4 billion of the $9.5 billion in extra defense spending would go toward modernizing existing weapons systems, including $2.4 billion for eight more C-17 cargo planes and 12 more F-15 and F-16 fighters.
Another $3 billion would go to improve military preparedness--by protecting overall troop strength from cuts below current levels and authorizing more military personnel to provide more relief for such jobs as early-warning radar operators, who are constantly deployed in high-stress assignments.
The bill would also provide an added $2.3 billion--offset by cuts in other defense programs--for several other areas Republicans have pinpointed, including housing and base facilities, maintenance of equipment and replenishment of munitions supplies.
It would keep B-2 bomber production lines open for another two years by providing $553 million to buy radar units and other components until the Pentagon and Congress decide once and for all whether to order more of the controversial Stealth bombers.
The Air Force already has 20 of the radar-evading B-2s, and Defense Secretary William J. Perry has said it cannot afford to buy any more. But defense hawks in Congress want the Administration to order 20 more. Thursday's action would keep that option open.
In addition, the bill would provide $763 million more than Clinton sought to speed development of a national ballistic missile defense system, and would commit the Defense Department to deploying it as soon as practical.
It would also require the military to discharge service members found to be HIV-positive. And it prohibits the use of military facilities abroad or funds to perform abortions unless they are necessary to save the life of the mother.
Congressional strategists say it is unclear, however, whether either of those provisions will survive in the Senate.
The budget Clinton proposed in February would cut overall defense spending to $257.8 billion in fiscal 1996, down $5.7 billion from the $263.5 billion Congress approved for the current fiscal year and the latest in a long line of reductions in the military budget.
Earlier, the President had planned even larger cuts, but under pressure from Republicans he pledged last December to add $25 billion to the Pentagon budget over the following six years. Most of that increase, however, would not come until fiscal 1998 and beyond.
Besides the increased spending for readiness and weapons modernization, the bill would also hit hard at the Pentagon itself. The measure calls for cutting 30,000 civilian jobs in the Department of Defense next year alone and for cutting the Pentagon hierarchy by 25%.
On Thursday, Republicans suffered one of their few setbacks when the House narrowly approved a proposal by Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) to kill funding for a new reactor designed to produce tritium for nuclear weapons. The vote was 214 to 208.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
Vote on Defense Budget
WASHINGTON--Here is how members of the California delegation voted on a defense budget authorizing $267.3 billion in spending for fiscal 1996.
Republicans for--Baker, Bilbray, Bono, Calvert, Cox, Cunningham, Doolittle, Dornan, Dreier, Gallegly, Herger, Horn, Hunter, Kim, Lewis, McKeon, Moorhead, Packard, Pombo, Radanovich, Riggs, Rohrabacher, Royce, Seastrand, Thomas
Democrats for--Condit, Dixon, Dooley, Fazio, Harman, Lantos, Matsui, Torres, Tucker
Democrats against--Becerra, Beilenson, Berman, Brown, Dellums, Eshoo, Farr, Filner, Lofgren, Martinez, Miller, Mineta, Pelosi, Roybal-Allard, Stark, Waters, Waxman, Woolsey
Republicans not voting--None
Democrats not voting--None