Breezing to Confirmation

Senators unanimously confirmed Madeleine Albright as secretary of state this afternoon, while President Clinton's choices for secretaries of Housing and Urban Development and Defense both breezed through confirmation hearings.

Former Sen. William Cohen, R-Maine, today told the Senate Armed Services Committee the United States must modernize its weapons, consider cutting the number of troops and turn its attention to Asia. In a hearing on his nomination to be defense secretary, Cohen said he would consider shifting emphasis in some Clinton administration priorities, the Associated Press reported.

"I worry that the [Defense Department] has maintained force structure and readiness but has deferred modernization to near the breaking point," said Cohen, who served on the Armed Services panel for 18 years.

Committee members approved Cohen's nomination this afternoon, with a full Senate vote scheduled for this afternoon. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said he accelerated the vote to accomodate Senators wishing to attend Thursday's services for former Sen. Paul Tsongas, D-Mass., who died over the weekend.

Meanwhile, while acknowledging Assistant HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo is a suitable candidate to succeed outgoing Secretary Cisneros, Senate Republicans and Democrats today cautioned that Cuomo will have to steer the department through a potentially crippling fiscal crisis.

Senate Banking Chairman Al D'Amato, R-N.Y., told members at a committee hearing on Cuomo's nomination that fiscal and managerial problems have plagued HUD "from one administration to the next" and warned that some of HUD's most successful programs may have to be "sacrificed" to save the entire department.

Committee Democrats were generally more hopeful about HUD's future, with Banking ranking member Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., saying Cuomo has the "drive and intelligence to take on this task." And Cuomo said he is prepared -- as Cisneros did -- to do more with less. However, Cuomo said the country can and should be committed to both balancing the federal budget and "caring for its people."

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