Clinton to seek Defense budget boost

amaxwell@govexec.com

President Clinton will propose a $12 billion boost in defense spending for the year 2000-the largest increase in defense spending in a decade.

"We want our armed forces to remain ready to deploy rapidly in any crisis, and that is what this effort will assure, by funding joint exercises, flight training, badly needed spare parts and recruiting for critical positions," Clinton said Saturday during his weekly radio address. "We want our forces to remain the best equipped in the world into the next century, and that is what this effort will assure, by paying for the next generation of ships, planes and weapons systems."

The nation's top military commanders have been pressuring Clinton and Congress to boost armed forces spending.

In an October letter to Senate Armed Forces Committee member Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Adm. Jay L. Johnson, the Navy's chief of staff, wrote: "While service to country has always made heavy demands on our people, we cannot continually ask that they do more with less or seem uncaring to the hardships they endure."

Commanders told McCain the Pentagon needs an infusion of up to $27.5 billion a year to restore American forces to a full state of preparedness. Clinton's proposal will include a total increase of about $110 billion over the next six years.

If approved by Congress, the increase would fund a 4.4 percent across-the-board pay raise, the largest pay increase since 1984. It would also fund a round of new jet fighters, attack helicopters and warships. Pentagon officials said $2.5 billion would be used for pay and benefit increases, while $2 billion would be used for next year's deployment of nearly 7,000 troops in Bosnia.

The proposal would bring defense spending in the next fiscal year to $296 billion, up from this year's budget proposal of $265 billion.

"We must undertake this effort today so that our nation will remain strong and secure tomorrow. We must do it as well because we have the most sacred obligation to those who accept dangers and hardships on our behalf," Clinton said.

Sen. John Warner, R-Va., incoming chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said the proposal "falls way short" of the needs targeted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Warner told The Washington Post that Clinton was "very clever" to unveil his plan just before a planned hearing on military readiness before his committee on Tuesday.

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