Legislators warn funding for Defense may be in danger

The leaders of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday warned Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that his $343 billion funding request could fall victim to budget limits because of the declining fiscal 2002 surplus estimates. Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, and ranking member Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, disagreed over the role President Bush's tax cut played in eliminating the expected surplus, but pledged to work together to ensure that the Pentagon got its requested budget increase for fiscal 2002. Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and House Budget Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, separately have said they will not approve defense spending above the $325 billion limit set in fiscal 2002 congressional budget resolution to avoid cutting into the Medicare and Social Security trust funds. Inouye warned that to cut the defense budget by $20 billion, Congress would have to decimate modernization, eliminate the military pay raise or cut forces. "I will not be a party to that," Inouye said, while blaming the vanishing surplus on "a slumping economy and a too-large tax cut." Stevens argued that the "margin of error" in the widely different surplus projections by the Congressional Budget Office and the Office of Management and Budget would support the conclusion that the proposed spending levels would not cut into the trust funds, which both parties have sworn to protect. But he promised to join Inouye in fighting for the full Pentagon budget. Inouye vowed to request a waiver of the budget limits, if necessary, to allow Senate approval of the Pentagon's request and asked Rumsfeld if he would support that effort. But Rumsfeld would not commit the administration's support to a move that would have the effect of conceding its budget would tap the trust funds. Rumsfeld repeatedly said that decision had to be made by the President. Rumsfeld also deferred to the White House when Inouye asked for suggestions on other federal spending that could be cut to make room for the defense increase. But he reminded the subcommittee that Bush's two top priorities were national defense and education, and he insisted that the military "needs every nickel" of the requested budget. Senate Budget ranking member Pete Domenici, R-N.M., at first insisted there was no conflict between the budget resolution and the Pentagon's spending request. "I submit there is room for this budget ... The on-line surplus is huge," he said. But Domenici later conceded the total of the 13 appropriations bills could violate the limits and permit a point of order against the last spending bills to come to the floor. He then argued that the government should not cut spending in a recession.
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