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Crisis in Yugoslavia

Lawmakers Ask Clinton: How Much and What Next?

Congress: President seeks support, hears concerns about costs and possible use of ground troops.


WASHINGTON — President Clinton launched a full-scale campaign Monday to rally congressional support for his military operation against Yugoslavia but ran into a barrage of queries from nervous lawmakers about everything from the cost of the war to whether ground troops should be sent.

In a White House meeting, House and Senate leaders of both parties peppered Clinton and his national security team with questions about his Kosovo policy and pressed him to send Congress a firm estimate of how much the military effort will cost.

Nevertheless, the congressional leaders emerged from the hourlong session expressing unity in U.S. resolve to force Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to halt his "ethnic cleansing" campaign and professing an open mind in considering the use of American ground troops.

"I don't think we should preclude anything at this point," Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) told reporters when asked about the possibility that the administration might order the use of U.S. ground forces in Yugoslavia.

Clinton was expected to continue the effort over the rest of the week, inviting a wider circle of lawmakers to the White House for briefings today and sending Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and other officials to Capitol Hill to help sell his policies.

But comments by lawmakers returning from the spring recess showed that, while they deplore the expulsion of the ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo, their opinions are all over the lot when it comes to whether U.S. troops should be there and what should be done in the war.

As a result, while there had been talk about some sort of early action on Kosovo in Congress this week, congressional strategists said Monday that--unless the administration sends up a formal request--no major floor votes are imminent.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said that several House committees would conduct hearings on key issues relating to Kosovo over the next two weeks and that a senior House delegation would fly to the region at week's end to gather more information.

But he cautioned against expecting lawmakers to vote immediately. "Ultimately, the House should speak," he said, "but that's not this week." Congressional strategists described the outlook in the Senate as essentially the same.

Lawmakers also appeared uncertain about how to handle a special appropriations request that Clinton is expected to send Congress later this week for between $1.5 billion and $2 billion for military and humanitarian aid operations in the Balkans.

While most analysts believe that the request, when it comes, will be treated as an "emergency" bill that will not require offsetting cuts in other spending, Republicans in particular want to hold the administration's feet to the fire on the cost issue.

Congressional strategists said that Clinton did not disclose Monday how much money he plans to seek for Kosovo but that the request would cover the cost of the military operation for the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, and about one-fourth of the bill for humanitarian aid.

Meanwhile, Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called on Clinton to begin planning for possible use of U.S. ground troops in Yugoslavia, despite the administration's insistence that no such action is being considered.

Warner told a news conference that the option to send ground troops "should never have been taken off the table." But he urged lawmakers to proceed "very carefully" in formally authorizing the use of ground forces, taking care to look into all the risks and conditions.

A group of House and Senate lawmakers from both parties who visited North Atlantic Treaty Organization headquarters in Brussels last week sent Clinton a letter last Friday expressing similar sentiments and urging him to warn Americans that U.S. casualties could be high.

Besides Lott, the congressional leaders attending Monday's meeting with Clinton included Hastert, House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.).

The comments by returning lawmakers suggested that, partly because of vivid television images during the past week of ethnic Albanian refugees, congressmen largely have tempered their previous skepticism over whether the United States should be engaged militarily in Yugoslavia.

At the same time, however, indications are that there still is no consensus in either party on such key issues as how long the air campaign should last, when ground forces should be sent and how much money Congress is willing to spend.

"You've got some members saying, 'We need to win,' while others are asking, 'Win what?' " one key strategist said Monday. "The important thing is we've got to get some of these questions answered before anyone around here votes on anything."

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