House Armed Services chief, GOP leaders spar over Defense funding

House Republican leaders are resisting a call by Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., to restore $2 billion in proposed cuts from President Bush's fiscal 2005 military budget, according to GOP aides present at an hourlong, closed meeting to hear Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, defend his budget plan.

Nussle has proposed to cut 0.5 percent from Bush's military budget, which has elicited an outcry from Hunter and other defense hawks. The Pentagon's budget would still see an increase of about $25 billion over fiscal 2004 levels under Nussle's budget.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., "is upset we can't have an honest discussion about honest numbers," a GOP leadership aide said. "All we're asking is to find some savings, not from ammunition but from the bureaucracy."

Nussle plans to include a reserve fund of up to $50 billion for Iraq in his fiscal 2005 budget resolution, which would count as emergency spending and would not affect the regular military budget.

"Discussion is the way to unanimity," Hastert said. "We actually have $50 billion on top of the president's request."

Another leadership aide said Hastert and other GOP leaders in their speeches to the conference today "pushed back" on Hunter, who gave a speech supporting the full funding of Bush's military request and coordinated speeches by other Armed Services members. Hastert characterized passing a lean budget as "our defining moment" this year, the aide said.

Hunter dismissed talk of using the supplemental to replenish regular military spending. "I think a majority of speakers spoke in support of the president's number during this time of war," Hunter said, adding, "There's a feeling that in a shooting war, you don't cut spending below the commander-in-chief's request." Hunter dismissed the argument that the budget included an extra $50 billion for the Iraq war, saying, "That's not an increase in defense spending."

Nussle, whose budget plan would also trim Bush's homeland security budget by 0.5 percent and freeze all other discretionary spending at fiscal 2004 levels, could not be reached for comment. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, was clearly frustrated with the discussion, reacting to a reporter's request for a statement by angrily waving a piece of paper and saying that he had no comment.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla., who has already expressed concerns with his expected tight allocations on the domestic front, said, "I'd be prepared to support the president's budget" of $823 billion in total 2005 discretionary funds, including the full military request and slightly higher domestic spending than Nussle has proposed.

The Senate Budget Committee worked through amendments to its 2005 budget plan Thursday and was set to wrap up in the evening. A plan by Senate Budget Chairman Don Nickles, R-Okla., would cut about $7 billion from Bush's military request, which is opposed by Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska. Nickles said he would work with Stevens to try to resolve his concerns.

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