WASHINGTON -- Ignoring a veto threat, the House approved a $283 billion Pentagon budget for 1991 yesterday that would kill the B-2 "stealth" bomber, cut in half spending for the "star wars" missile shield and add nearly $1 billion to pay for the U.S. buildup in the Persian Gulf.
The 256-155 vote chopped $24 billion from President Bush's Pentagon spending request for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. Voting for the bill were 223 Democrats and 33 Republicans. Twenty Democrats joined 135 Republicans in voting against it.
Of the Maryland delegation, Representative Helen Delich Bentley, R-2nd, cast the only no vote.
Before the final vote, Representative Bill Dickinson of Alabama, senior Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said Defense Secretary Dick Cheney had just informed him that Mr. Bush would veto the bill.
Mr. Dickinson said Mr. Cheney cited cuts in the bomber and missile-shield programs and the House decision to trim 129,500 troops from the Pentagon's 2 million uniformed personnel.
The bill also cuts research money for the MX and Midgetman land-based nuclear missiles and saves the Marines' V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft, which Mr. Cheney has been trying to kill for two years.
By a 413-10 margin, the House also voted to pump $978 million into the Persian Gulf operation. The package includes $250 million for three fast sealift ships, $187 million for chemical and biological equipment and training, and $185 million in added pay and other benefits.
The House bill must be reconciled with the Senate's $289 billion measure, as well as comply with whatever defense spending amount congressional and administration negotiators may agree to as part of a deficit reduction package.
The fate of the B-2 bomber will be the key fight when Senate and House negotiators go behind closed doors to resolve differences in the bills. The Senate approved Mr. Bush's request to buy two of the radar-eluding planes next year, but B-2 supporters in the House didn't try during the debate to reverse the decision of its Armed Services Committee to kill the $840 million plane.
"The administration decided not to attempt to resuscitate B-2 production with an amendment on the House floor for fear of an embarrassingly large loss," Armed Services Chairman Les Aspin, D-Wis., said.
Mr. Aspin said the House bill reflects the continuing decline of the Soviet Union as a military threat while addressing the rise of "international thugs" like Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
But Republicans warned the bill would resurrect the "hollow military" that plagued the Pentagon before President Ronald Reagan's administration began its $2 trillion buildup in 1981.
Mr. Dickinson argued that the House cut would "cripple" the Pentagon's ability to manage a reduction in forces while coping with the Persian Gulf crisis. The Senate proposed cutting 100,000 troops; the administration suggested trimming 38,000.
Mr. Aspin said such cuts can be made if the Pentagon calls up combat reserve units, instead of limiting the call-ups to the support units, and if it begins to shrink the number of U.S. soldiers in Europe.
Mr. Aspin said the Pentagon's reluctance to take troops out of Europe is "nonsense."
A comparison of President Bush's proposed military spending and changes approved by the House and Senate:
Mr. Bush proposed spending $307 billion for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 The Senate approved $289 billion, the House $283 billion.
The administration's proposal calls for two planes in fiscal 1991 and advanced procurement of six planes in fiscal 1992 at a cost of $4.6 billion. The Senate agreed with this revised plan. The House eliminated all procurement money and included only enough funds to cancel the program after the 15 planes now under development.
Mr. Bush proposed $4.7 billion for the Strategic Defense Initiative, known as "star wars." The Senate approved $3.7 billion, the House $2.3 billion.
The president's request included $1.6 billion for procurement and construction and $548 million for research. The Senate approved only the research money. The House eliminated all money for the program and instead created a fund of $610 million for advanced missile work, calling on Mr. Bush to decided in 90 days whether it should be for the MX or the unbuilt Midgetman.
Mr. Bush proposed $202 million in research money for the mobile, single-warhead missile. The Senate approved the request. The House eliminated the funds in favor of the $610 million strategic missile fund.
Mr. Bush's budget cancels the tilt-rotor aircraft, which takes off like a helicopter but can fly like a plane. The Senate added $238 million in research money for the plane. The House included the research money as well as $165 million in procurement funds.
The administration proposed a reduction of 38,000 from the current total of 2.1 million military personnel. The Senate adopted a cut of 100,000, including 50,000 in Europe. The House approved a reduction of 129,500.