Inviting a veto, the Senate finished work Friday on a defense bill that spends $6.4 billion more on the military than President Clinton had requested.
But in separate legislation, a bipartisan group of key lawmakers agreed to a compromise designed to develop a national missile defense system without undercutting the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The Clinton Administration has threatened to veto this measure as well.
Technically, the Senate could not vote on the spending bill because the House has not yet passed its version but the Senate’s official passage in September is considered certain after the House completes its work.
A vote on a companion bill that sets policy for the Pentagon, which contained the language related to the ABM treaty, was postponed until after Labor Day.
The Senate completed debate on the $242.7-billion military spending bill after defeating a series of Democratic amendments aimed at reducing overall spending or stripping funding of particular weapons programs.
Passage of the measures is expected to set the stage for a major confrontation over defense issues between the White House and the Republican-controlled Congress--perhaps their fiercest battle over the military budget since the GOP took power on Capitol Hill in January.
The White House has threatened to veto both measures, arguing that the increases are unwarranted and threaten to undermine the President’s goal of achieving a balanced budget.
Additional spending provided by the Senate bill, but opposed by the Administration, included $1.3 billion for tactical fighter and attack aircraft, $1.4 billion for destroyers and $777 million for National Guard and Reserve equipment.
The Senate package would also increase funding above the President’s request by $491 million for the ballistic missile defense system and by $135 million for a related space missile tracking system. Although the Administration opposes the shape of the GOP missile defense system, it has not attempted to abolish it completely. The rest of the increases are incremental raises spread throughout the defense budget.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said Friday that Republicans’ insistence on increasing spending “on weapons systems we don’t need” showed “how disingenuous” they are when they declare that cuts in spending on social programs are necessary because of budget problems.
Republicans, however, say that Clinton has cut military spending too far and has left the services in need of more modern weapons. The Clinton proposal would have reduced spending by $5.3 billion compared to 1995 but the Senate measure would increase spending by $1.1 billion.
The Senate military spending measure eliminated the Administration’s request for $65 million for peacekeeping forces.
But the Senate bill followed Clinton’s recommendations to kill the controversial B-2 bomber program and to build a third Seawolf submarine.
The House voted, by contrast, to provide enough money to keep the B-2 program alive but to eliminate the Seawolf project.
The House spending bill, which has been approved at the committee level, would provide $244.2 billion for defense.
It is not clear what the conference committee will decide about the B-2 bomber and the Seawolf submarine.
The Pentagon contends that it does not want more B-2 bombers but the Navy wants the Seawolf as a bridge until new attack submarines are built.
The compromise on the ABM issue, which had held up action on separate authorizing legislation that sets policy for the Pentagon for the coming fiscal year, would speed up the development of a national missile defense system but would make deployment of such a system subject to further review by Congress.
That struck a middle ground between opponents of the missile system and advocates of the original GOP proposal, which essentially required deployment of such a system.
“Our substitute provides that development of the system can take place, but with plenty of ifs, ands and buts before our decision to deploy is made,” said Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), an author of the compromise and leading critic of the original language.
But Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), a co-sponsor of the compromise who supported the original GOP language, said he is satisfied that the compromise still “sets a clear path to the deployment . . . of effective missile defenses.”
The compromise must still be approved by the full Senate when Congress returns in September from its summer recess. But Warner said he is optimistic that it would be passed because it was drafted and endorsed by a bipartisan group of key Armed Services members including himself, Levin, Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and William S. Cohen (R-Me.).
The House has already passed a bill including similar language.
The ABM controversy concerned the development and deployment of a network of ground-based missiles to protect the United States against attacks of long-range ballistic missiles, which Third World countries, such as North Korea, are trying to acquire.
The ABM treaty, negotiated in 1972, has been a cornerstone of U.S.-Russian arms-control arrangements. The treaty, among other provisions, requires antiballistic missile defenses to be deployed at a single site.
The GOP plan provides for a multisite system, which critics say would effectively abrogate the ABM treaty.
Opponents also said that the ABM provision could prompt Russia to abandon current disarmament efforts and revive the arms race.
Faced with a likely filibuster over the issue, Senate leaders told Armed Services Committee leaders to come up with a bipartisan compromise. The fruits of those talks were unveiled Friday.
The compromise specifies that Congress, before authorizing deployment of the system, would have to study its affordability, effectiveness and its effect on the ABM treaty.
It is not clear whether resolution of the ABM impasse will lift the threat of a presidential veto, because Administration officials have also objected to the increased funding authorized by the bill as well as other provisions.