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House Warned by Weinberger on Defense Cuts

March 08, 1985|RUDY ABRAMSON | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A $19-billion cut in the Reagan Administration's military budget request, proposed by the Senate Budget Committee earlier this week, would force the United States to cancel 5,000 new missiles, 170 aircraft, 240 M-1 tanks and 175 Bradley armored fighting vehicles, Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger told Congress Thursday.

In an appearance before the House Budget Committee, Weinberger called the Senate panel's recommendation "extraordinarily unfortunate." He warned that, if adopted, it would cause delays in arms programs, drive up costs and cause military officers to "start leaving the service in droves."

'Delaying Programs'

The Defense Department, he said, would be forced "to go back to the old management practices of the previous decade, stretching out, delaying programs, losing all benefits of multiyear procurement, the most economical method of acquisition."

Weinberger declared: "We'd be telling the career military personnel (that) it's like old times again--that they can think seriously about other careers and start leaving the service in droves, as they were doing in 1980."

In the year's first vote on a deficit reduction measure, the Republican-controlled Senate budget panel Tuesday adopted a "freeze" proposal that would allow the fiscal 1986 Pentagon budget to grow only enough to keep pace with inflation--meaning a cut of more than $19 billion from the Administration's request for $313.7 billion.

The vote of 18 to 4 was one of the sternest warnings yet that Congress intends to make the defense budget its priority target in the deficit reduction campaign.

But Weinberger outlined the heavy impact that such cuts would have on Pentagon procurement after telling the House committee Thursday that more than $200 billion of the Pentagon budget is "unreachable" because it is committed to items such as military retirement.

No Responsive Chord

There was no indication that the secretary's dire warning struck a responsive chord, however.

Rep. Martin Frost (D-Tex.), describing himself as a strong supporter of a strengthened national defense, told Weinberger that there is a bipartisan consensus on the House committee to follow in the Senate panel's footsteps and approve a Pentagon budget freeze.

An angry Rep. Pat Williams (D-Mont.) accused Weinberger of having issued similar warnings last year. When budget cuts were proposed on Capitol Hill, Williams charged, Weinberger had declared that it would be necessary to cut Army and Marine power, eliminate five tactical fighter wings, decommission a carrier battle group, cancel the MX missile and withdraw carrier battle groups from the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean if those budget figures were adopted.

Can't 'Shoot Straight'

Similar figures were adopted, Williams noted, adding that none of Weinberger's warnings had been carried out. "Neither our missiles nor our secretary of defense shoot straight," Williams said, and he accused Weinberger of "snookering this Congress and the American people."

Weinberger responded by denying that he had listed the measures Williams cited. "Those statements," he said, "for the most part were not made at all," and some were "directed at much deeper cuts than we were even talking about."

House Budget Committee Chairman William H. Gray III (D-Pa.), who lectured Weinberger on the failure of the Defense Department to contribute to reducing the federal deficit, suggested that he had been made a target of a Pentagon counterattack. Five of 22 military bases named recently by the Pentagon for possible closure are in his district, he said.

Weinberger repeatedly assured him that there was "nothing sinister" about picking installations that could be closed without affecting national security, telling Gray that the Philadelphia Navy Yard, in the chairman's district, had been "marked for extinction for a long time."

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