- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 14, 2001

When Messrs. Bush and Cheney pledged during the 2000 campaign that "help is on the way" to the U.S. military, they did not indicate that much of it might not begin arriving until Oct. 1, 2002. Nevertheless, that was the signal the Bush-Cheney administration sent the armed forces last week.

Despite evidence confirming a serious shortage of spare parts, inadequate training opportunities and unacceptable readiness levels, the administration announced that it would not support a supplemental defense appropriation in the near future to augment a fiscal 2001 defense budget totaling $296 billion. (As Mr. Cheney pointed out throughout the 2000 campaign, that defense spending level represented less than 3 percent of total economic output, or the lowest level of defense spending since the year before Pearl Harbor.)

Moreover, the Bush-Cheney administration also announced that it would soon be sending Congress the $310 billion defense budget for fiscal 2002, which begins Oct. 1, that was prepared last month by the outgoing Clinton administration. To be sure, the $310 billion defense budget for 2002 represents a $15 billion increase for that year relative to what Mr. Clinton proposed last February to spend in 2002. However, considering the tendency of defense inflation to outpace consumer inflation, the $14 billion increase in 2002 over 2001 barely, if at all, compensates for rising prices. Indeed, unless it is ratcheted up, inflation-adjusted defense spending may well decline next year. And real increases may not occur until fiscal 2003, which begins Oct. 1, 2002. Judged by the standards so clearly outlined by Messrs. Bush and Cheney during last year's campaign, this is simply unacceptable.

Until it completes a comprehensive strategic review that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is now conducting, the administration argues that many of its spending decisions will have to be put on hold. "Good appropriations will only occur if there is a strategic vision," Mr. Bush told Republican legislators at a Republican retreat earlier this month. While that is undoubtedly true for decisions involving major new weapons systems, it is not true for training, maintenance and spare parts, areas where there is a desperate need for immediate funding increases. Indeed, on the day the administration announced it would not soon be seeking a supplemental appropriation for 2001, Rowan Scarborough of The Washington Times reported that the U.S. Army is literally running out of bullets for the 9mm Beretta pistol, the standard issue for many officers and certain enlisted ratings. Meanwhile, inventories of cruise missiles for both the Navy and Air Force need to be rebuilt after they were severely depleted during the Kosovo campaign.

Mr. Bush would do well to signal that significant spending increases can be expected for the next fiscal year, once the strategic review is completed. That would require submitting a revised defense budget during the summer. In the meantime, the administration should address the current spending shortfalls by announcing its support for a supplemental appropriation for the current fiscal year. The "help" that was promised to be "on the way" needs to arrive sooner rather than later.

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