Senate GOP asks for more spending for missile defense

WASHINGTON -- Senate Republicans moved to increase spending for missile defense Tuesday to save a $393 billion defense bill from a possible presidential veto.

Democrats questioned whether enemy missiles were the biggest threat to the nation.

Sen. John Warner, R-Va., said he would seek to restore $814 million that the Democratic-controlled Armed Services Committee cut from President Bush's more than $7.5 billion request for missile defense.

Warner's proposal would allow the president to decide whether to use the money for missile defense or other programs to fight terror.

"Now is not the time to send a signal that we are lessening our resolve to defend this nation from all known threats," said Warner, top Republican on the committee.

He said the extra money would be available for the Pentagon because of a lower-than-expected rate of inflation.

Counterproposal planned

Democrats prepared a counterproposal to shift all $814 million to anti-terror efforts. The Pentagon has an overabundance of resources for missile defense, said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., but "we have a shortage in the critical area of counterterrorism."

Missile defense is one of the last big issues the Senate must deal with before voting on the legislation that authorizes, but does not pay for, defense programs for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. The House already passed its version of the bill, including full allocations for missile defense.

Building a missile system to protect the United States was proposed by President Reagan two decades ago, but the concept gained momentum recently with the Bush administration's decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which banned such systems. Bush said the missile shield was necessary because of reports that Iran and other potentially hostile nations were progressing toward development of longer-range missiles.