- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 8, 2001

Congressional Republicans expressed frustration yesterday with President Bush's decision not to immediately shore up military readiness, as the Joint Chiefs of Staff pressed the case inside the Pentagon for $7 billion in emergency aid.
Several Republican lawmakers are upset with Mr. Bush but are reluctant to criticize the president publicly. They privately point to Vice President Richard B. Cheney's pledge to troops during the campaign that "help is on the way" and then note recent White House statements that no emergency funds will be approved for now.
Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in an interview he agrees a Pentagon transformation study is needed, as Mr. Bush has ordered.
But he added, "We've got to fix [readiness] now. So you go on two tracks." He said he would like Mr. Bush to submit a supplemental bill to Congress in May or June so it could be on the president's desk for his signature by August.
Mr. Warner hammered home this point in a letter signed by other Republican committee members and sent to the president last night.
"As you and Vice President Cheney pointed out frequently during the campaign," Mr. Warner wrote, "there are serious readiness and personnel problems which require immediate attention. It is important that we quickly address these problems and fix the force that is currently in place. That force could be called on to act at anytime and it must be ready."
One Republican staffer said Mr. Bush's pro-defense supporters are using the word "betrayal."
"My phone is ringing off the hook saying, 'What's going on and why did we support Bush,' " said the aide. "People are livid. Betrayal is a good word."
Asked if lawmakers would write their own supplemental bill, the staffer said, "I don't see how we can buck a Republican president."
In their first skirmish with the new commander in chief, the Joint Chiefs this week continued to make the case for a quick infusion of money to purchase spare parts, fuel and ammunition, and to repair housing.
Defense officials said the chiefs met Monday in a secure meeting room known as the "tank" and made their case for emergency aid to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
Officials said Mr. Rumsfeld said no "immediate" supplemental request will be sent to Congress, but that one may be submitted later to bolster this year's $295 billion defense budget.
"The service chiefs feel they have a need for an emergency supplemental at some level of dollars," said one defense source.
Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said he was "disappointed" that Mr. Bush did not back a supplemental bill and that it was tantamount to breaking a campaign promise.
"Have you called any of those generals and admirals who endorsed Bush?" Mr. Skelton said. "Ask them if they have egg on their face. This isn't going to help recruiting. It's not going to help retention."
Regarding Mr. Bush's plan to hold off on substantial increases in defense spending until the fiscal 2003 budget, the congressman said, "I think they can do it much faster than that. The service chiefs have already been over to talk to the president. He knows what the service chiefs need. I don't think it takes a full year to do a review."
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer yesterday defended the president's approach.
"The president has said that he will seek no immediate supplemental," Mr. Fleischer said. "He has not ruled one out for later in the year. But his first priority is to make certain that we attend to America's defense needs, and that is why he has directed Secretary Rumsfeld to begin the force structure review."
The review, which has yet to begin, would identify the nation's post-Cold War threats and then shape the force to meet the challenges to national security in the years ahead. Mr. Bush said during the campaign that the transformation of the armed forces could involve canceling major weapons systems in favor of research into more technologically advanced weapons.
Under this plan, Mr. Bush's first significant imprint on the Pentagon budget would not come until the fiscal 2003 plan submitted one year from now. The White House plans to send Congress a "lean" budget this month for fiscal 2002, which begins Oct. 1, that will bump up spending to around $310 billion.
But Republican staffers said yesterday they hoped the time frame would not scuttle a supplemental bill. After all, they said, the spending would go for immediate needs such as aircraft and truck parts, and fuel to maintain flying hours and ship deployments.
Jack Spencer, a military analyst at the Heritage Foundation, says the military needs an immediate add-on of $10 billion this year and $25 billion in fiscal 2002 principally to tackle combat-readiness shortfalls.
Still, he is reluctant to criticize Mr. Bush.
"I'm hesitant to come down hard on the administration right now, simply because I'm waiting to see how this pans out," Mr. Spencer said. "I have no problem with the strategy overview. I think that's imperative that they do that before coming up with huge amounts of funds. They can't do that overnight. It's going to be a year before they can do that budget."
He added: "We continue to infer certain things from a little bit of what's being said by the administration. I'm waiting to see what their actions are. They certainly ran on a platform to fix readiness right up front."

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