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Clinton Proposes Adding $25B to Defense Spending

By Art Pine
Los Angeles Times

President Clinton, seeking to blunt a Republican attack over the politically explosive issue of U.S. military readiness, proposed Thursday spending an extra $25 billion over the next six years to bolster military preparedness and modernization of weapons.

The proposal is Clinton's first major policy initiative since the GOP victory in the Nov. 8 elections. It would finance more training and equipment maintenance, grant new cost-of-living pay increases, upgrade military housing and expand child-care services.

The president also announced he will ask Congress next January for an extra $2.3 billion for the current year's defense budget to help reimburse the military for peacekeeping and rescue operations, which it says has siphoned off monies needed to maintain readiness.

Although administration officials contend that the increases had been in the works for months, the timing of the announcement - which Clinton made at a Rose Garden ceremony flanked by the Joint Chiefs of Staff - clearly was intended as a pre-emptive strike against the GOP.

Restoring many of the defense cuts that Clinton had made earlier was Item No. 6 in the 10-point "Contract With America" that Republicans used to help seize control of the House in last month's election. The GOP had been planning a push for more defense spending in 1995.

Only two weeks ago, the Pentagon disclosed that five key Army divisions had suffered significant declines in readiness as a result of the cash-flow problems - despite earlier assertions by top officials that preparedness levels were high.

White House and Pentagon officials declined to say how the president would find the money needed to pay for the increase - by cutting domestic programs, proposing new tax hikes or allowing the federal budget deficit to grow.

Reaction from Republicans was muted. Rep. Floyd D. Spence, R-S.C., expected to be chairman of the House Armed Services Committee next year, said he was heartened by the announcement, but said defense spending still falls short of what is needed.

There was some dispute over how far the initiative would go to close the gap between the long-term goals of the Clinton's defense program and what he actually has budgeted for defense.

John M. Deutch, the deputy secretary of defense, told reporters that with some additional cuts from delaying or reducing weapons programs, the administration could eliminate the gap, which is now officially estimated at $49 billion over the six-year period. But many outside analysts disagreed.

Administration officials listed four separate parts of the initiative:

-Some $2.7 billion over five years to boost morale and retention rates by improving military housing conditions, expanding child-care, welfare and recreation programs and providing an extra pay allowance for personnel stationed in high-cost areas.

-About $12.5 billion during the period to provide maximum cost-of-living allowances to military personnel - an increase that the administration eliminated as a cost-cutting move in its first defense budget but was later forced by Congress to provide.

-Up to $9.8 billion in additional funds, most of it toward the end of the decade, for modernizing the armed forces by buying new, presumably more high-technology weapons to replace aging aircraft, warships, tanks, missiles and guns.

-A request for an emergency appropriation in January - probably for about $2.3 billion - to reimburse the services for money they spent carrying out peacekeeping and rescue missions. Without this, they would have to cut training and maintenance.

For all the White House hoopla over the $25 billion, officials disclosed that almost three-fourths of the money would not be disbursed until fiscal 1999, three years after Clinton's current term in office.

As a result, despite the president's new package, overall defense spending still is expected to decline through fiscal 1997 before finally turning up again. By 1999, it would rise 1 percent more than inflation.