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GOP Bill to Change Defense, Foreign Policy Passes House

By Art Pine
Los Angeles Times

The House approved Republican-sponsored legislation Thursday designed to prod the Clinton administration to change course on several defense and foreign policies but only after Democrats succeeded in weakening some of its most controversial provisions.

The legislation, part of the House GOP's "Contract With America," was intended to restrict Clinton's ability to deploy American troops on United Nations peacekeeping missions, accelerate the deployment of a ballistic missile defense system and speed up the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

But Democrats mounted a vigorous counteroffensive. They pushed through amendments that blunted the missile-defense and North Atlantic Treaty Organization provisions and forced Republicans to withdraw a proposal to require the president to seek Congress' approval before sending troops on U.N. missions.

Passage ultimately came on a largely party-line vote of 241-181 - a substantial-enough margin but still some 40 votes short of what the Republicans would need to override a veto that President Clinton has threatened. Four Republicans and 18 Democrats crossed party lines.

Even so, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., said Republicans had achieved their major goal in passing the bill - putting the administration on notice that it would have to "rethink the sort of feckless multilateralism" that he said had characterized its foreign policy.

"We're trying to send a pretty clear signal," Gingrich said at a ceremony intended to mark passage of yet another provision in the 10-point "Contract With America," on which House Republicans ran in the November election.

Rep. Floyd D. Spence, R-S.C., chairman of the House National Security Committee, and Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman, R-N.Y., chairman of the House International Affairs Committee, said that their panels would recommend more specific proposals later to flesh out Thursday's bill.

The measure the House passed included major provisions that:

Require the administration to deduct the extra cost of deploying American troops on U.N. peacekeeping missions from the $1 billion annual contribution Washington makes to the organization's peacekeeping fund. The United States now bears such extra costs.

Forbid placing U.S. troops under foreign command in U.N. peacekeeping operations unless the president certifies that the arrangement is needed for national security. Pentagon officials said the provision is unnecessary because U.S. troops are always under American command.

Cuts the American share of U.N. peacekeeping costs to 25 percent of the total, down from 31.7 percent now, in line with a change made by Congress last year. But the proposal allows Clinton to exceed the limit by declaring the move is necessary for national security.

Call on the administration to develop options for deploying a nationwide anti-ballistic missile defense system as soon as practical but only after the system has been fully tested and after the Pentagon has paid to improve overall readiness levels in the armed services.

Call on the administration to speed the entry of Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic into NATO but without the specific fast-track timetable that Republicans earlier had sought to impose.

The measure also would set up an independent commission to review current defense policies. And it urges Congress to reinstate the budgetary fire walls that once prevented lawmakers from raiding the defense budget to finance domestic spending.

The legislation now goes to the Senate, where its future is uncertain. Although Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., has endorsed several provisions of the bill, the Senate has no comparable legislation in draft form.

The House fight over the bill this week marked deep-seated divisions between the two parties on an array of defense and foreign policy issues, both over the pace of new weapons development and on the use of American forces in U.N. peacekeeping missions.

Republicans have been arguing for months that deployment of American troops in places such as Somalia, Haiti and even Rwanda has detracted from military preparedness.

They also have been pressing Clinton to halt the decline in defense spending and to speed deployment of a broad-scale anti-ballistic missile system.