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$262-Billion Military Budget Proposed : Spending: Senate Armed Services Committee recommendation includes programs for conversion and retraining in the ailing defense industry.

July 24, 1993|RICHARD A. SERRANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — The Senate Armed Services Committee Friday recommended a $262-billion budget for the Pentagon next year that includes major new programs for conversion, research and development programs to help boost the ailing defense industry.

The panel also crafted legislation easing restrictions for gays and lesbians in the armed forces, using language consistent with the White House policy announced Monday, with the exception that it does not state that homosexual conduct is "incompatible" with military service.

Instead, the committee chaired by Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) found that military personnel who "demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability."

The $262-billion budget figure for fiscal 1994 is about $1 billion below the President's request. After adjusting for inflation, it is smaller than the $259.1 billion budgeted for this year.

The budget will be the first for the Clinton Administration, coming in a period of sharp defense cutbacks, the withdrawal of troops from Europe and new strategies on the size and shape of the armed forces at the end of the Cold War.

Other significant provisions of the authorization bill call for a 2.2% pay raise for the military next January, despite President Clinton's pay freeze announced earlier this year, and parrot the Administration's directives to expand career opportunities for women by allowing them to serve on ships engaged in combat missions.

Nunn said that he expects the full Senate to take up the budget measure before it departs Aug. 7 for a monthlong recess. He predicted swift passage. "The bill approved by the committee continues to shape the U.S. defense Establishment for a post-Cold War world," he said.

Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, the ranking Republican on the panel, said that he also is pleased with the shape of the measure, even though it was put together before Defense Secretary Les Aspin has completed an internal "bottom up" review of the military's goals for the future.

"In working on this bill we had to contend with a changing, uncertain and hostile world--and without a clear picture of Pentagon priorities since the bottom up review still has not been released," Thurmond said.

"The committee was under tremendous pressure to cut military spending and reduce force levels."

The committee authorized a military troop strength of 1.62 million for the next fiscal year, about 106,100 below the current level.

The defense industry reconversion incentives come at a time of deep cuts in military spending, as much as 50% since 1985. They include new programs to retrain displaced workers in science and engineering fields, as well as funds for helping local communities adversely affected by base closings.

The measure also would establish special teams that would help communities find new uses for closed military installations and it would provide more planning grants to local officials so they can develop options for the future use of closed bases.

On the gay issue, Nunn said that his panel wanted to draft legislation consistent with Clinton's new directive because legal challenges would hold up better in the courts if the legislative and executive branches of the government had been in agreement on the sensitive matter.

Like the Clinton policy, gays would be excused from the military under the committee's plan if they engaged in homosexual conduct or openly remarked about their sexual orientation.

The committee's vote on the gay issue was 17 to 5 and, although officials declined to reveal the head count on the secret balloting, committee sources said that all five no votes were from Democrats who either wanted to lift the ban on homosexuals entirely, allowing them to serve openly, or expressed concerns about writing the language into law rather than allowing it to continue as an Administration policy.

Like the Senate panel, the House Armed Services Committee also conducted three days of hearings this week into the gay issue, concluding with testimony Friday morning from a group of high-level noncommissioned officers. The soldiers said that, while they would prefer to continue the ban, they could endorse Clinton's policy of allowing homosexuals in the military if their sexual orientation was kept private.

The House subcommittee on military personnel is scheduled to vote Monday on the gay issue, and the full House Armed Services Committee plans to vote on the 1994 defense appropriations bill Tuesday.

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