New cuts in defense spending unveiled $242.6 billion budget for fiscal '97 continues Clinton's reduction plans

March 05, 1996|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration unveiled yesterday a $242.6 billion Pentagon budget for fiscal 1997 that calls for further cuts in defense spending, despite charges by critics that it is mortgaging future preparedness by paring money for modernizing weapons and equipment.

The spending plan for the year beginning Oct. 1 would continue the long-range defense cuts that Mr. Clinton had been planning before congressional Republicans increased military spending in fiscal 1996 -- delaying any further growth, except to cover inflation, until after the year 2000.

The cut in military procurement programs -- to $38.9 billion in fiscal 1997, down from $42.3 billion in fiscal 1996 -- came despite assertions by administration officials a year ago that the long decline in spending for military procurement would come to an end this year.

The proposal for $242.6 billion in overall military spending compares to a level of $251.8 billion estimated for the current fiscal year.

Mr. Clinton initially had sought $246 billion in defense spending for fiscal 1996, but Congress increased that figure.

Although Defense Secretary William J. Perry argued that the lower procurement budget actually would go further because inflation has abated more, the plan is likely to spark another battle with Republicans, who already have begun making an issue out of it.

Virtually as soon as the new figures were made public, Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, denounced the new budget inadequate and warned that the military's procurement program was "in perilous decline."

Rep. Floyd D. Spence, another South Carolina Republican and chairman of the House National Security Committee, expressed similar views. He said the new budget proposal continues to provide "inadequate resources" that will send the military services "scrambling to make ends meet."

Moreover, critics argued that the plan flouts new warnings by Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that to avoid hurting military readiness, the Pentagon will have to boost the procurement budget to $60 billion a year by fiscal 1998 or fiscal 2000.

Under the plan the administration proposed yesterday, the target set by General Shalikashvili would not be achieved until fiscal 2001. "We have been living on past modernization, but it is now time to terminate that," General Shalikashvili warned recently.

Despite the cuts in the overall budget, the Pentagon spending plan would provide for a 3 percent increase in military pay and would finance improvements in military housing and child-care and recreation programs.

At the same time, however, the spending plan contains these caveats:

For the first time, the spending figure includes money for overseas military operations such as the peacekeeping venture in Bosnia, which usually are financed through supplemental budget requests. The fiscal 1997 budget includes $1.1 billion for such ventures.

As reported last week, the administration is taking $2.5 billion from the Pentagon's major missile development programs over the next five years, revamping them to speed the deployment of short-range battlefield missiles at the expense of longer-range weapons.

Most of the other broad categories in the Pentagon budget are being reduced slightly from the current year's levels, with no major changes in earlier plans for buying new weapons systems.

Mr. Perry said the military reductions are "virtually complete." Even so, the proposal would bring the defense budget to 3.2 percent of the overall economy -- and 15.7 percent of total federal spending -- in fiscal 1997, down from 6.3 percent and 24 percent respectively in the late 1980s.

Perry said Monday he hopes to be able to provide more money for military modernization programs in coming years by using savings expected from closing unneeded military bases and from streamlining military purchasing procedures. Pub Date: 3/05/96

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