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GOP Likely to Seek Turnaround on Defense Funding : Spending: Republicans are expected to seek speeded development of new weapons. Peril to military readiness at issue in global peace operations.

November 11, 1994|ART PINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — The Republican takeover of Congress next January is expected to lead to a noticeable increase in defense spending and heightened pressure on the Clinton Administration to cut back U.S. participation in global peace operations.

Although no major revamping of the military is likely, analysts said that GOP lawmakers are likely to try to reverse defense cuts by adding as much as $20 billion more to the Pentagon's coffers over the next five years.

The Republicans also are expected to press the Defense Department to speed up development of new weapons designed to defend U.S. troops against ballistic missiles on the battlefield--considered a point of vulnerability for American forces now.

Defense has been a bone of contention for Republicans since the Clinton Administration took office.

GOP lawmakers have bridled over the Administration's plan to speed up the pace of the defense cutback. They also have criticized Administration decisions to deploy U.S. troops for peace operations, including those in Rwanda, Macedonia and Haiti.

Republicans have said that those operations siphon off badly needed operating funds and eventually cut into military readiness.

The "contract with America" that House GOP leaders drafted before the election called for restoring money that the Administration has cut from the defense budget and reimposing budget restrictions designed to protect it from raids by Congress.

A similar plan outlined by Republican senators earlier this year called for adding $20 billion to the defense budget over five years. But analysts said that it is too early to tell how far GOP lawmakers actually will go, particularly given the grim budgetary realities that Congress will face.

With overall budget limits already tight--and with the GOP now pledged to cut taxes and reduce the federal budget deficit--there will not be enough money left to revamp the defense program substantially, defense experts said.

Andrew F. Krepinevich, director of the nonpartisan Defense Budget Project, estimated that the most that Republicans will be able to increase defense spending will be about $2 billion to $4 billion a year.

"We don't expect the defense budget to rise very much," Krepinevich said.

Moreover, for all the talk about changes, Republicans on the House and Senate Armed Services committees are not that far from the positions of their Democratic colleagues.

Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and his likely replacement, Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), see most issues essentially alike.

In the House, Rep. Floyd Spence (R-S.C.), who probably will be named chairman of that chamber's Armed Services Committee, is largely in agreement with the panel's current majority. Rep. Ronald V. Dellums (D-Oakland) now chairs the committee.

Differences between House and Senate versions of the defense bill have been negligible over the last two years.

Analysts expect these changes once Republicans take control of Congress:

* Heightened pressure from lawmakers to limit the use of U.S. troops in peacekeeping operations, particularly in cases where the military budget does not contain funds to finance such ventures without depleting the services' operating budgets.

* A new push to finance development of a weapon designed to destroy ballistic missiles that threaten U.S. troops on the battlefield--a project that the Clinton Administration has downgraded. Some Republicans also want to revive the Ronald Reagan-era "Star Wars" program.

* Added monies for procurement of major weapons systems, such as the Air Force's proposed F-22 advanced fighter aircraft or the Army's soon-to-be-developed Comanche attack helicopter, both of which the Administration has hinted it may cancel or delay.

* Pressure for a speedup in the admission of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and other former East European countries as full members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Nations of the former Soviet Union have raised concerns over granting full status to those countries and Clinton, mindful of the issue, has granted them what amounts to only apprenticeship status.

* A move to restore the so-called "firewalls" in the congressional budget process that previously had protected the defense budget from raids by lawmakers who wanted to channel defense monies into domestic programs.

At the same time, the GOP takeover is apt to relax pressure on the Pentagon to eliminate duplication. Nunn and others have been pushing a project in which the armed services would redefine functions that each service should perform.

Just how the Administration will react to the Republican demands is not certain. Defense Secretary William J. Perry told reporters Thursday that the Pentagon is preparing its fiscal 1996 budget for submission in February as though no changes had taken place.

But Perry also expressed some skepticism about the ability of the GOP lawmakers to square their various demands with one another, hinting that it may not be possible to boost defense spending and reduce the overall budget deficit at the same time, as the Republicans have pledged.

"When they start putting their programs together, . . . they'll find some degree of conflict between these two objectives," Perry said. "My planning for the defense budget . . . is based on the same assumption of . . . resources that I made before the election."

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