Defense budget expected to pass essentially intact

September 09, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Congress began work yesterday on a military spending bill for fiscal 1994, amid indications that lawmakers will provide President Clinton with essentially what he has asked for in shaping the military for the post-Cold War world.

In their first floor action following the August recess, the House and Senate opened debate on separate versions of the defense authorization bill, scheduling votes on amendments dealing with issues ranging from gays in the military to big-ticket weapons systems.

Despite the current budget squeeze, however, no major changes from Mr. Clinton's military spending plan are expected. Neither chamber appears prepared to slash the defense budget much below the relatively modest cuts Mr. Clinton himself has proposed.

Mr. Clinton is asking for $263.4 billion in military spending for fiscal 1994, which begins on Oct. 1. The Senate bill would provide $261.6 billion, a cut of only $1.8 billion. The House measure would authorize $262.8 billion, or a relatively scant $571 million less.

Congressional strategists say the lawmakers' reluctance to reduce military spending further reflects two factors -- uncertainty about the potential risks in trouble spots such as Bosnia and Somalia, and fear that cutting too rapidly would hurt the economy.

"The Cold War is over indeed, but the world is not less dangerous," Rep. Henry J. Hyde, R-Ill., warned in a floor speech.

There had been some expectations earlier that the defense bill might become mired down in controversy over the debate on whether to lift the ban on homosexuals in the military. But that now seems likely to be confined merely to token efforts by both sides.

Both the House and Senate bills contain provisions backed by conservatives to write into law the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that Mr. Clinton announced in July, which would halt aggressive steps to root out homosexuals in the military, but would still restrict their behavior.

The House began wending its way through a slew of more than 50 proposed amendments yesterday, defeating a series of provisions that would have either cut or increased funding for the Pentagon's remaining ballistic missile development programs.

The Senate, meanwhile, remained in session until yesterday evening to consider a proposal by Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va, requiring the administration to conduct another review of its decision to keep U.S. troops in Somalia.

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