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Pentagon to Press for Renewed Increases in Military Spending

By Paul Richter
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

In a new acknowledgment of the rising threats to U.S. military readiness, military leaders are expected Tuesday to press President Clinton for increases in Pentagon budgets that have been declining for 13 years.

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and the Joint Chiefs of Staff will argue in a meeting with Clinton that the $250 billion defense budget may need annual supplements of up to $15 billion for several years unless major weapons programs can be cut or overseas deployments curtailed, U.S. officials said Monday.

These arguments represent a marked change in tune for the Pentagon leadership, which has contended that the military could get by on the flat budgets that are called for under Congress' balanced budget agreement.

But there have been increasing complaints that tight budgets were hurting efforts to recruit and keep military personnel, threatening major procurement programs and causing shortages of spare parts.

Meanwhile, it has become clear that the Pentagon would not be saving as much money as it hoped by closing unneeded bases, streamlining the defense bureaucracies and implementing other efficiencies.

"The uniformed folks at the Pentagon are now viewing all this as a lot more serious," said one Senate aide. "They see a train wreck coming."

One senior defense official said the leadership has recognized for some time that it was going to be difficult to meet all the military's goals for readiness and weapons modernization. But new data have shown the budget strains becoming "more permanent and more pervasive," he said.

He said the most urgent concerns were compensation and quality-of-life issues for military personnel. Their pay, medical and retirement benefits have recently eroded, even as deployments have become more frequent, and career opportunities in the booming civilian economy have appeared more attractive.

"The worst thing that can happen to a military force is to lose its talent," he said.

This official said the Joint Chiefs don't intend to press Clinton to adopt any specific spending program, but only to candidly lay out the pressures that require either increases in spending or reductions in operations or new weapons purchases.

Pentagon officials have repeatedly argued that frontline U.S. forces are fully prepared, though they acknowledged shortages of equipment and personnel in forces.