FOR A GLIMPSE of Congress at work, take a quick hard look at the $243 billion defense appropriations bill just approved by Senate and House conferees. The measure, richly deserving a presidential veto, contains two big-ticket items that cause fiscal indigestion not only among Democratic liberals but among Republican deficit hawks intent on balancing the budget.
Before conferees assembled a few weeks ago, the Senate had gone on record against added funds for the B-2 bomber and the House had voted to reject a third Seawolf nuclear submarine. So what happened? The conferees bought both of these expensive weapons systems.
Listen to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a Vietnam war hero whose military advice is often uncannily on target. "I see no rationale for the B-2 in the post-Cold War era. It no longer has any relevance." As for the $700 million appropriated for the Seawolf, a boat on the Pentagon list only because President Clinton pandered to win the Connecticut primary in 1992: "There is no Russian submarine threat," says Senator McCain. "The Russian navy is rusting at the piers of Sevastopol and Vladivostok."
So why did legislators approve $493 million to keep the B-2 program going? The only reason, says Rep. John Kasich, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Budget Committee, is "J-O-B-S." He and 84 other GOP fiscal conservatives voted against an add-on to the B-2 program that eventually could cost the nation $31 billion. But Republicans eagerly slashing away at the social safety net beat him by three votes with the help of Democrats protecting home-district pork.
At the same time Congress is attempting to buy a whole host of weapons systems the Pentagon has not requested, it is reducing funds ticketed to help pay for the dismantling of the Soviet nuclear arsenal. Yet this same Congress is appropriating money for development of a land-based missile defense system.
Lawrence Korb, a Bush administration military aide, says talk of short-changing the defense budget is just not true. The United States, he said, "spends almost as much on defense as the rest of the world combined."
This nation's military posture would be more than adequate even without the $7 billion Congress wants to add to the Clinton budget. Under deficit reduction requirements already approved, every penny of that $7 billion has to be taken from domestic spending programs already cut back as never before. This newspaper unstintingly supports the drive to balance the budget. In this campaign, the military establishment should not be exempt.