September 20, 1997 in Nation/World

Defense Bill Cuts Off Bosnia Funds Rejects Backing U.S. Forces, But Clinton Can Seek Waiver; B-2 Plan Also Reached

Bradley Graham The Washington Post
 

Senate and House negotiators reached agreement Friday to cut off funds for U.S. forces in Bosnia next June but left President Clinton the option of requesting a waiver and formally seeking supplemental funds to keep American troops in Bosnia for a longer period.

The move reflected hardening congressional resistance to any further extension of American military presence there. But it stopped short of legislating an absolute withdrawal deadline that the White House had threatened would prompt a presidential veto.

Completing efforts to draft a joint $248 billion defense bill, the negotiators also approved an extra $157 million for the B-2 bomber program, while rejecting language that would have locked the funds into producing more of the controversial stealth bombers. Instead, the bill would permit Clinton to spend the extra money on improvements and repairs of the 21 planes already ordered. A separate provision would create a blue-ribbon commission to study the need for additional B-2s.

The compromise legislation by members of House and Senate defense appropriation subcommittees represented an attempt to meet the administration partway on the two most contested issues in this year’s defense bills. The House had voted to end funding for U.S. peacekeeping troops in Bosnia after June 1998 and approved an additional $331 million to buy nine more B-2s. But neither provision had passed the Senate.

White House officials said Friday night they were studying the revised measures to determine if the changes had gone far enough. The Bosnia provisions remained a source of concern amid some uncertainty over whether the legislation would require a vote of Congress to extend the U.S. military mission.

Although Clinton has declared that the NATO peacekeeping operation in Bosnia will end by June, House members had wanted to write the exit date firmly into law to ensure the president holds to it. They were upset by Clinton’s decision late last year to depart from previous assurances and stretch the U.S. deployment by 18 months.

Administration officials have insisted on retaining some flexibility amid widespread expectations that a reduced number of U.S. ground troops likely will remain in Bosnia past next summer as part of some still undefined, international peacekeeping force that would succeed the current NATO-led operation.

Under the terms of the joint bill, if Clinton wants to keep American forces in Bosnia beyond June, he would have to certify to Congress that a further deployment is in the U.S. national interest. He also would have to submit a supplemental funding request and provide a report detailing the exit strategy and cost of the extended mission.

“Representatives from both the House and Senate wanted to go on record saying U.S. troops should leave Bosnia by next summer,” said a Senate staff member. “But respecting our obligations to NATO allies, they weren’t prepared to foreclose the president’s options and precipitate a constitutional confrontation.

“At the same time,” he went on, “what makes this bill unique is the stipulation that to extend the Bosnia mission, the president will have to consult with Congress and submit his certification.”

The bill must win full committee and floor approval before going to the president, but such negotiated measures are seldom amended in the final steps toward passage.

Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., who chairs the House subcommittee, said the biggest challenge confronting the conferees was how to eliminate about $8 billion in projects that passed one legislative body but not the other.


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