WASHINGTON — Budget director David Stockman virtually invited Congress today to seek cuts in President Reagan's defense buildup and said some military leaders are "more concerned about protecting their retirement benefits than they are about protecting the security of the American people."
"When push comes to shove they'll give up on security before they'll give up on retirement" benefits, Stockman told the Senate Budget Committee, quickly adding that he would probably "get in hot water" for his comments on military pensions.
In his first appearance in Congress in defense of the President's $974-billion budget for 1986, Stockman also complained bitterly about farmers seeking emergency aid to alleviate the current credit crisis, although he said political pressure would lead the Administration to produce a bail-out package swiftly.
"I cannot figure out why the taxpayers of this country should have the responsibility to go in and refinance bad debt which was willingly incurred by consenting adults," he said.
Defends Domestic Cuts
Stockman defended Reagan's call for $39 billion in domestic spending cuts against attacks from liberal Democratic Sens. Donald W. Riegle Jr. of Michigan and Howard M. Metzenbaum of Ohio. He said elimination of entire programs and agencies was "whole body surgery" that was necessary in view of federal deficits expected to reach $180 billion this year alone.
But he sounded far more sympathetic to the calls from members of both parties for restraint in the President's Pentagon buildup.
"You may not need the $314" billion in new spending authority Reagan requested for the Pentagon, "I'll grant that," he said. But he said it was "unrealistic" to think in terms of a freeze in the defense budget.
When senators expressed frustration about their inability to force long-lasting reductions in Reagan's buildup, Stockman suggested the Administration would be open to negotiations if Congress produced a comprehensive alternative to the plan the Administration has come up with.
Stockman indicated deep frustration over his inability to win backing in the Administration for changes in the lucrative system of military retirement benefits.
"Institutional forces in the military are more concerned about protecting their retirement benefits than they are about protecting the security of the American people," he said. "When push comes to shove, they'll give up on security before they'll give up on retirement."
He quickly conceded that the President does not share his view on military retirement, but Stockman got some support for his goal of reducing military pensions, if not his rhetoric.