- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 31, 2001

The Senate's top Republican said yesterday that lowered surplus projections could force lawmakers to whittle President Bush's request for increased defense spending.
"If we don't have $18 billion, we won't do $18 billion," said Minority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, referring to the administration's request for increased defense spending in the new fiscal year.
The Congressional Budget Office next month will release a revised forecast of the federal budget surplus for fiscal 2002, which CBO projected in January would be about $38 billion.
But an internal Republican memo circulating on Capitol Hill estimates that, based on changes in the economy and other factors, the projected surplus essentially will vanish in the new CBO report. That would leave no surplus dollars, outside of Medicare and Social Security, for increased spending on defense.
White House budget director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. told The Washington Times in an interview published Friday that surplus projections will be smaller than anticipated, but the government will end the current fiscal year with a surplus of about $160 billion.
Mr. Lott said the Pentagon's budget constraints have been 10 years in the making, and it will take Congress more than one year to fix the problems in military readiness and other areas. The comments are his first to suggest that even congressional Republicans might look to scale back Mr. Bush's requested increases in defense spending.
And it comes at a moment when some Pentagon brass are already chafing at the administration for not pledging a bigger increase in military spending. Military sources have said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld urged the Office of Management and Budget to approve an increase of more than $30 billion to next year's Pentagon budget of $310 billion.
If Congress adds the $18 billion President Bush is requesting to the $310 billion defense budget for fiscal 2002, it would bring total defense spending to $328 billion, an 11 percent increase over the fiscal 2001 budget. The extra money would be earmarked for readiness, spare parts and other priorities.
Mr. Lott met last week with Mr. Rumsfeld about, among other topics, improving the Pentagon's relations with Congress. Mr. Rumsfeld told The Washington Times last week that the military's deficiencies "have accumulated over a decade" and he understands they may not be addressed at "a more rapid pace."
"You accept the world like you find it and you go about the business trying to work the problem as successfully and effectively as you can," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
Other senators say if surplus projections do decline, it could make it difficult to reach the target of $18 billion extra for the Pentagon.
"That's going to be a real challenge, and I don't know how exactly to get around it," said Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican and a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. "It's going to take some commitment and courage on the part of Republicans to stand up for the president and the secretary and national security. It's a ballgame yet to be played."
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, is "trying to resolve the dilemma we face."
"How do you provide for additional commitment and resources to defense when we know that to do so would mean dipping into Medicare?" Mr. Daschle said.
Mr. Lott said it was "premature" to predict the new surplus projections or how they will affect lawmakers' spending decisions this fall. But he stressed the need for fiscal discipline.
"There has been a request for additional funds for defense, for instance, and in education," Mr. Lott said. "I do think we're going to have to exercise some fiscal discipline. We may not be able to see as much spending as some people would like in a number of areas."
He added, however, "We're going to have the or second-largest surplus in the history of the country."
A Senate Republican aide said Mr. Lott was issuing a "shot across the bow" to lawmakers who want to increase overall spending more than the administration has requested.
Democrats argue that the administration's $1.35 trillion, 10-year tax cut has left them with little room in the budget for increased spending on other items such as defense. Republicans say the tax cut was a needed boost for the economy and will serve to curtail runaway spending by Democrats.
"How we address the critical issues of education, defense, prescription drug benefits, and the array of other priorities that we have legislatively is going be a question we'll grapple with for the balance of this year and well into the next several years," Mr. Daschle said. "It is a terrible box. I think it's the height of chutzpah to see now some of our Republican colleagues even considering the proposal to pass a constitutional amendment to balance the budget when they've created this mess in the first place."
Complicating matters is the slow pace of the Democrat-led Senate in approving appropriations bills. The Senate has approved three spending bills this summer and has a chance to approve two more before adjourning Friday for its monthlong August recess — far short of the nine spending bills that Mr. Daschle set as a goal.
Congress must approve 13 appropriations bills to fund the government. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide