Bush has another chance to kill artillery system

Saturday, May 11, 2002

WASHINGTON -- The House approved the largest military spending boost in decades, keeping alive an $11 billion artillery system President Bush wants to scrap. The Senate will give the administration another chance to make its case for replacing the Crusader with more futuristic weapons.

The House voted 359-58 early Friday to authorize $383 billion in national security spending during the 2003 budget year -- with Bush's requested $10 billion contingency fund for the war on terrorism still to come.

Later Friday, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., announced his panel's 17-8 approval of a $393 billion defense bill that includes the contingency fund. That reflects an increase of about $50 billion, or 15 percent, over what Congress authorized for 2002.

As for the Crusader, Levin said lawmakers want to hear from both sides before deciding whether to take a stand like the one made by the House, which included in its bill nonbinding language telling the Pentagon not to kill the program before producing a study on alternatives.

The administration is threatening a veto of the bill if the language stays.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who long championed the program, said Wednesday he wants to dump it in favor of more futuristic technologies like precision-guided bombing.

"There obviously is a U-turn here which has been taken by the secretary of defense," Levin said. Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz "made a strong case themselves for the Crusader for weeks and months. They have now changed their position" and lawmakers need to hear why, he said.

'Shot across the bow'

In the meantime, both the House and the Senate committee endorsed the Bush administration's original request for $475 million for continued development of the Crusader.

The White House budget office said Thursday that Bush's advisers would recommend a veto if Congress limits "his ability to cancel this program."

That threat, said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., could be a factor in congressional action, serving as a "shot across the bow of Republicans who have been lobbying heavily for the system."

Those in Congress whose states would benefit from developing and building the Crusader have promised to fight the Pentagon decision, and like many existing programs, it has strong constituencies in the services. Yet many lawmakers also want the military to modernize to meet 21st century threats.

The Crusader is the first major weapons program Rumsfeld has decided to kill, and his ability to get that job done is being watched closely for signs of which direction the department will go.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., called the effort "gutsy."

Although the bills passed by the House and the Senate panel have a lot in common -- including 4.1 percent across-the-board raises -- the Crusader and missile defense could be battlegrounds as the chambers reconcile their measures.

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