Defense issues in an election year GOP hot buttons: Will Cold War alarums still resonate on the campaign trail?

February 13, 1996

PRESIDENT CLINTON'S acceptance of a $265 billion defense authorization bill passed by the Republican-controlled Congress leaves several hot policy issues very much on the agenda for the 1996 national election. Here is a rundown:

Excised from the measure at White House insistence was a provision that would have mandated deployment by 2003 of a national missile defense system. Instead, the Pentagon is committed only to the development of such a system. Hardline GOP lawmakers see political dividends in stressing that the U.S. remains vulnerable to strategic nuclear attack. But how potent are old Cold War alarums? Key Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee helped author the development-only concept.

Also dropped from the legislation after a Clinton veto was sustained was a requirement that the president would have to submit reports to Congress before any decision to place U.S. forces under United Nations command. Question: How would a Republican president feel about having his authority as commander-in-chief curtailed this way?

Much the same concerns would arise with a third provision eliminated at White House demand -- one that would have required the president to send a supplemental funding request to Congress to cover any unplanned overseas deployment costing more than $100 million.

Mr. Clinton did accept two controversial GOP provisions he has no intention of enforcing. One would require the discharge of service personnel found to be carrying the virus that causes AIDS. This is probably unconstitutional. The other would require continued expansion of the B-2 bomber fleet despite better judgment of top brass.

While Mr. Clinton seized the high ground on most of these issues, he flunked badly in pushing through funds for a third Seawolf submarine the Navy does not need, the result of a 1992 campaign pledge to Connecticut voters. It is further proof that raw politics in a campaign year rarely contributes to the national defense.

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