WASHINGTON — President Bush threatened a veto Monday as the House debated a $291-billion military budget that slashes his proposed spending on the Strategic Defense Initiative and the B-2 Stealth bomber.
Despite Bush's warning, the House adopted the recommendation of its Armed Services Committee to trim the President's proposed SDI allocation from $4.6 billion to $2.7 billion in fiscal 1992.
The action came after the chamber rejected a more severe measure that would have reduced SDI to a research program with a budget of $1.1 billion. The amendment failed, 266 to 118.
In a letter to House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.), Bush accused members of the committee of targeting vital strategic programs and using the funds for weapons built in their own back yards.
"While cutting funding for these and other crucial programs, the bill funds unneeded items such as excessive procurement of aircraft and other weapons systems," Bush said.
The committee's bill also terminates work on the B-2 bomber at the 15 planes in production.
The package for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 increases spending on conventional weapons that proved successful during the Persian Gulf War, including the F-15 and F-16 jet fighters, the M-1 tank and the Patriot missile.
The President said fiscal constraints on creating armed forces to meet future challenges means "there is no room for pork-barrel spending or politics as usual in Congress."
The defense package reflects the panel's view of the diminishing Soviet threat by withholding funds for big-ticket strategic weapons and directing the Pentagon to test fully before buying, proponents say.
The Armed Services Committee approved $2.7 billion for SDI, but provided no money for the concept of "Brilliant Pebbles," in which space-based interceptors would search out and destroy enemy missiles.
The committee, however, earmarked $858 million for theater missile defenses, such as the Patriot, and designated the Army, not the SDI organization, as the lead agency to oversee the program.
Proponents of the panel's bill cite the growing threat of short-range ballistic missiles from developing countries such as Iraq as the rationale for increasing funds for theater missile defense.