WASHINGTON — The Senate on Tuesday began to wrap up work on two defense bills that could fundamentally change the Cold War ground rules for national missile defense systems.
In the first order of business after their three-week summer recess, senators approved a $243-billion defense appropriation bill for fiscal year 1996, which begins Oct. 1, and planned a vote today on a partner bill that authorizes $265 billion in military spending programs for the coming year. The vote on the appropriation bill was 62 to 35.
The two bills are $6 billion to $7 billion more than the Clinton Administration asked and reflect the Republican majority's determination to overcome what it says are readiness and equipment shortcomings in the nation's defense.
The authorization bill establishes programs and sets general funding levels. The appropriation bill approves the specific funding.
The bills add more than $600 million to the $3 billion President Clinton requested for missile defenses, with an emphasis on developing a multisite missile defense system designed to protect American territory from nuclear, chemical and biological missile attacks.
The ground-based defenses would be far more modest than the space-based "Star Wars" anti-missile system envisioned by the Ronald Reagan Administration. Republicans argued that it is needed to protect Americans from emerging missile threats from such nations as Iraq and North Korea.
But Democrats said it represents a costly and reckless departure from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty that restricted the United States and the Soviet Union to one missile defense site apiece.
Moscow has warned that the future of other nuclear disarmament treaties could hinge on U.S. compliance with the ABM treaty.
Facing strong Administration opposition, Republican leaders last month agreed to compromise language in the authorization bill that gives the go-ahead to plans for a multisite defense system but says cost-effectiveness, military need and treaty implications must be considered before it is built.