Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, retorting sharply to an admonition from President Clinton for quick action on a defense spending bill, said any threats to military readiness were Clinton’s own fault.
Republicans have long warned “that the severe defense cuts imposed by your administration compounded by costly ‘peacekeeping’ operations, neither authorized nor approved by Congress, will … strain military preparedness,” Dole wrote.
He said those warnings and GOP calls for early submission of a supplemental appropriations bill “have consistently fallen on deaf ears.”
“Now that a severe readiness crisis is upon us, I am hard pressed to see this as the fault of the Congress,” Dole wrote. “Your decision to blame the Congress for any delays and the impending readiness crisis is unfortunate.”
Actually, the Senate and House have already passed separate versions of the supplemental defense appropriations bill, but differences have yet to be resolved by a conference committee.
Moreover, the final defense bill is linked politically to a larger, House-passed package of domestic spending cuts now pending in the Senate, and to a third measure restoring partial medical insurance tax deductions for self-employed workers.
“Although we have been hampered by a laundry list of amendments offered by members of your party, the House and Senate have taken quick action on your defense supplemental request … and I am hopeful to bring final action before the Easter/Passover recess,” Dole said.
In his letter, Dole reiterated a thinly veiled threat to hold up final action on the defense bill unless Senate Democrats allow passage of the domestic spending cuts.
“As to whether the Congress will choose to combine your defense supplemental and your domestic supplemental request will be a matter that we will decide early next week.”
Dole’s reference to Clinton’s “domestic supplemental request” was to the House-passed spending cut bill that also contains billions of dollars in earthquake and flood relief money for California.
Additionally, Dole has filed a motion to cut off debate Monday on Democratic efforts to pass a nonbinding resolution of intent to block wealthy Americans from escaping taxes by renouncing their citizenship before allowing a vote on the health insurance deduction bill.
Dole’s letter was in response to a letter from Clinton urging quick resolution of the House-Senate differences on the defense bill.
“I know you will not permit the Congress to hold the readiness of our armed forces hostage to other debates,” Clinton wrote in the letter sent from Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Also Friday, Deputy Defense Secretary John Deutch warned that the supplemental bill must be signed by April 7 or cuts will be taken that “significantly impair” the activities of the armed forces, including orders to cut Air Force pilots’ flying hours by 25 percent, curb overhauls on two aircraft carriers and halt several major training exercises.
The Pentagon needs supplemental funds because it spent training and maintenance money on the U.S. occupation of Haiti and other overseas actions.