Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company
The Boston Globe
May 9, 2002, Thursday
FIGHTING TERROR WEAPONS SYSTEMS;
LAWMAKERS VIE TO SPEND
By Bryan Bender, Globe Correspondent
WASHINGTON - Members of Congress have moved to add billions of dollars for new
military projects that may improve their chances for reelection this fall, but
do not reflect the Pentagon's priorities and would not contribute much to the
war on terrorism, in the opinion of
Administration officials and some Capitol Hill critics, and public interest
The lawmakers who have added the projects say they are exercising the
legislative branch's power to authorize spending to protect national security,
but some critics say many of the expenditures are unnecessary additions to a
defense budget that is already the largest in a generation.
"The president's message to the Congress is to hold the line on spending," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters Tuesday.
"We are a nation that has a deficit, and it's important for Congress to not add
excessive spending to make the deficit worse."
One source of tension between the White House and congressional appropriators -
many of whom are otherwise Republican allies of the president - is a $
10 billion war
fund that President Bush included in his $
379 billion budget request for the fiscal year beginning Oct 1. The White House
wants the money, but does not want to declare how it plans to spend it.
The Defense Department says the fund will be needed to pay for unanticipated
costs associated with the expanding war on terrorism, but some key members of
the House and Senate are unwilling to give the president a blank check until he
specifies more clearly what the military will buy with the money.
The House Armed Services Committee has set aside $
3.5 billion of the $
10 billion to pay for a series of pet projects. Among the allocations is $
1 billion for new warships being pushed by lawmakers whose constituents depend
on shipbuilding contracts. Also included in the House bill is money for other
unrequested items, such as helicopters and engine upgrades for F-15 and F-16
fighters that are slated to be replaced.
The Senate is expected to take similar action. There, Senate minority leader
Trent Lott of Mississippi and Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine
and George Allen of Virginia, all Republicans, are also pushing for more
spending on ship construction that would benefit their home states.
"The Congress is doing what they always do, with a little bit more thrown in
these days," said Eric Miller, a defense spending investigator at the nonprofit Project on
Government Oversight in Washington.
A House aide, defending the new spending, said that many of the add-ons come
from lists of unfunded requirements that the military services circulate on
Capitol Hill to let Congress know what items they would like to have if more
money was available.
According to Steve Kosiak, defense budget analyst at the Center for Strategic
and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, the House panel's action stems in part
from a desire to play a more active role in shaping the war on terrorism.
"It would be surprising if Congress did not reassert itself a bit and refuse to
sign a blank check for $
10 billion," Kosiak said.
"There is a reluctance to say we'll do whatever you want and a desire to
maintain the ability to shape or influence things."
But with military spending higher than it has been in two decades, critics say
that lawmakers just cannot resist helping themselves to some of the trimmings.
One proposal instructs the Air Force to lease 100 Boeing 767 jets for 10 years
to serve as air refueling tankers. Senator Patty Murray and Representative
Norman D. Dicks, both Democrats from Washington state, have pushed for the
aircraft to help replace the aging fleet of KC-135 tankers. But critics charge
that the leasing agreement, which would require the Air Force to return the
jets to Boeing for resale, would be significantly more expensive than if the
planes were purchased outright from Boeing, which has manufacturing plants in
On Tuesday, an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the
leasing deal would cost a total of $
37 billion, while purchasing the aircraft would cost $
May 9, 2002