The White House has warned Congress that President Clinton will probably veto any Pentagon spending bill that contains money for the B-2 stealth bomber or strips funding for U.S. troops in Bosnia.
In a policy memo sent from the White House Office of Management and Budget to key lawmakers in recent days, the Clinton administration said it had “serious concerns” about Pentagon budget plans passed by the House and Senate before the August recess.
The memo said the administration “firmly opposed” a House plan to spend $331 million to continue production of the B-2 and begin plans for buying nine aircraft beyond the 21 on order. It said the costs of acquiring more of the radar-evading aircraft, which cost the Air Force $1 billion each, would “exceed the benefits.”
“The additional aircraft would incur 20-year life-cycle costs of approximately $20 billion, which would weaken the ability of the Air Force to acquire other urgently needed weapons systems,” the memo said.
The Senate bill does not contain the additional B-2 funding. The Senate Armed Services Committee, in a 14-4 vote, denied any B-2 funds that would continue production beyond 21 planes.
Northrop Grumman has said that a restart of its B-2 production line could cause it to hire more than 1,200 new employees at the North Texas facility.
The administration sent the letter so that House-Senate conferees, who will begin meeting in September to iron out the many differences in defense bills from both houses, understand that Clinton will hold firm on his opposition to the B-2 and other weapons programs he considers wasteful.
Liesl Heeter, a defense analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment, said conferees probably would strip out the funding for the B-2.
She said Congress, after embarrassing endings to run-ins with the White House in 1995 and 1996, may be unwilling to engage Clinton a third year in a row.
Language in both bills dealing with a deadline for troop withdrawal from Bosnia could prove a major issue between the White House and Capitol Hill.
Concerned about a widening U.S. mission in Bosnia, the House bill would stop funding after the June 30 deadline. The Senate bill strongly urged Clinton to remove the 8,000 troops by the June 30 deadline, but it would not cut off funding.
The administration called House plans unacceptable.
“This provision could jeopardize the safety of our troops and damage our national security interests,” the memo said.
“It would seriously undermine our commitment to shepherd the Dayton Peace Accords to full implementation and undercut our ability to complete successfully the NATO-led mission in Bosnia.”
The State Department had said in mid-July that it would keep troops in Bosnia beyond the deadline, knowing that both the House and Senate measures would argue against prolonging the stay of troops.
“The United States has made a long-term commitment to peace in Bosnia and the reintegration of Bosnia into Europe,” said Robert Gelbard, the State Department official responsible for implementing the Bosnia peace accords.