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Senate panel unveils defense bill

WASHINGTON, June 30 -- A Senate panel unveiled a defense budget plan Friday that would undo House efforts to continue production of the B-2 Stealth bomber. The Senate Armed Services Committee plan calls to eliminate funding proposed by the House in its version of the National Defense Authorization Act of 1996 to purchase parts and continue production of B-2 bombers. In a close battle between defense proponents and deficit hawks, the House narrowly retained language to spend $553 million to retain the option of buying up to 20 additional radar-evading B-2s for nearly $1 billion each. The Senate measure, however, does contain a proposal to spend $1.5 billion for a third Seawolf Class submarine, which does not appear in the House-passed bill. The committee proposal also appeared to be on a collision course with the nation's Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty by establishing a policy to deploy missiles at several sites by 2003 and increasing funding for missile defense by $300 million. Installation of the 'multi-site National Missile Defense' would require alterations to the 1972 accord. Committee Chairman Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., called the bill an attempt to 'achieve the appropriate balance of readiness, modernization and quality of life program.' Under the proposal, the Pentagon would receive $264.7 billion in the 1996 fiscal year -- $7 billion more than requested by President Clinton. Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn, the ranking Democrat on the panel, lauded Thurmond's efforts, but voiced some worries. 'I am concerned, however, with inadequate funding of important programs such as basic defense research, the technology reinvestment program, nuclear proliferation monitoring and disaster relief,' Nunn said.

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'Ianticipate debate in the Senate over a number of issues in the bill, such as funding for certain missile defense technologies, legislative policies regarding the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and nuclear testing.' The proposal also includes language to express congressional concerns on several items, including worries over placing U.S. troops under U.N. command during allied peacekeeping or humanitarian operations as well as limiting their use to situations deemed critical to national interest. That language is largely inspired by the ongoing situation in Bosnia- Herzegovina, where a U.N. peacekeeping mission using 22,000 troops from several nations has failed to quell ethnic fighting between the Muslim- led Bosnian government and the Bosnian Serbs. President Clinton has outlined several scenarios in which U.S. troops could be used in the Balkans and has said he may seek congressional approval to use American soldiers to relocate allied peacekeepers. Congressional leaders, however, have repeatedly expressed their opposition to almost any troop involvement in the war-torn region, especially after a disastrous experience in Somalia.

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