January 31, 1998 in Nation/World

New Jets, New Ships In Defense Budget Unveiled By Clinton

John Diamond Associated Press
 

With a sharp increase for new weapons, the Clinton administration plans to seek $270.6 billion in defense spending for next year, according to documents obtained Friday.

The administration’s defense spending blueprint seeks $48.7 billion for weapons purchases, including the first two Air Force F-22 fighters, 30 Navy FA-18 E and F fighters, a new attack submarine, an amphibious assault ship and three destroyers. That’s up nearly $4 billion from this year’s weapons spending level. By comparison, the total proposed defense budget itself for next year is $3 billion above this year.

In addition, the spending blueprint pledges to reach a level of $61 billion for weapons spending by 2001. The administration plan reflects the prevailing philosophy in U.S. military circles that long-term military modernization represents a higher priority than current force size. No major weapons systems are canceled in the budget plan, and some, such as a new aircraft carrier, a fully “digitalized” Army division, and unmanned surveillance planes, are accelerated.

Defense Secretary William Cohen is to announce the spending package on Capitol Hill next week. A copy of the budget plan was obtained Friday by The Associated Press from a government official briefed in advance on its contents.

In a speech Thursday at the National Defense University, an elite officer school in Washington, Clinton said the budget maintains a cutting-edge force ready for battle.

“Readiness remains our No. 1 priority, and my budget provides for the readiness we need in a hopeful but still hazardous time,” Clinton said. Suggesting administration thinking toward a smaller but still effective force, Clinton said, “Our military leaders understand that tomorrow’s force must be agile, effective and lean.”

Part of that leanness, Clinton says, must come in the form of additional military base closures, and his budget seeks authority for two more base closure rounds. Congress roundly rejected that idea last year.

Cohen described the budget plan as seeking “the proper balance between current operations, modernization and real-world operational challenges.”

The $270.6 billion figure includes $13.3 billion for nuclear weapons programs administered by the Energy Department and represents total Pentagon budget authority, a figure that includes some money that will be spent in future years. Defense budget outlays, the actual amount the Pentagon will spend in fiscal 1999, which begins next Oct. 1, is set at $265.5 billion, including $12.9 billion for nuclear weapons programs.

Because so much of what the Pentagon does involves long-term spending, the budget authority figure - $270.6 billion - is the one defense officials will most frequently use in their discussions on Capitol Hill. It represents a $3 billion increase over this year’s defense budget. But Pentagon and congressional budget experts agree that in actual buying power, the plan represents a slight decrease due to the effects of inflation.

In addition to the weapons spending increase, the other driving forces in the defense budget are service member pay, housing improvements and current readiness. The plan calls for a 3.1 percent military pay raise next year and 3 percent per year in the following four years. Thus, while the size of the active-duty force will decline by 23,000 next year to 1.396 million, the Pentagon’s military personnel budget will increase by nearly $1 billion to $70.8 billion.

The budget hews closely to last year’s balanced budget agreement and to the defense spending plan that came out of the military’s Quadrennial Defense Review of spending and strategy. Despite talk of budget surpluses, the defense budget proposal contains few dramatic changes over what was discussed last year.


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