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THE HOUSE SHOWS HOW NOT TO MAKE A DEFENSE BUDGET

SHARE THE HOUSE SHOWS HOW NOT TO MAKE A DEFENSE BUDGET

In tearing President Bush's strategic weapons priorities to shreds in the 1990 defense budget, the U.S. House of Representatives last week engaged in irresponsible conduct.

It's not just that the House cut left and right in the budget. After all, defense spending has been reduced for five consecutive years. What was appalling was the methods used and the attitude shown.It was as if the whole exercise had less to do with the defense budget or cutting the deficit and more to do with opposing the president at every turn. The House not only shot down all of Bush's weapons proposals, but then turned around and voted to fund two military aircraft that even the Pentagon doesn't want.

After leaving Bush's military budget in shambles, some representatives were flippant about the whole thing. Rep. Les Aspin, D-Wis., head of the House Armed Services Committee, quipped that the House had produced "a Michael Dukakis defense bill."

Aspin said that "We pretty well shredded George Bush's strategic program. George Bush ends up with almost nothing of what he asked for." So much for the bipartisanship with which the defense of this country ought to be treated. The honeymoon between the Republican President and the Democratic Congress is clearly over.

In just a few days - compared to the defense budget process that normally takes weeks - the House killed $100 million to develop the Midgetman missile; eliminated $500 million for a rail-mounted version of the MX missile; cut $1 billion from the B-2 Stealth bomber, putting the program on hold; and slashed $1.8 billion from "Star Wars" research.

Each of those programs has its critics, but to slash everything in sight hardly makes sense. In effect, it is a sort of unilateral disarmament and makes life more difficult for U.S. arms negotiators in dealing with the Soviets. The House is taking away many of the bargaining chips.

Saving money wasn't the reason for the cuts because the House approved $508 million for development of the V-22 Osprey, a Marine troop ferrying craft that takes off like a helicopter and flies forward like a plane. The Pentagon says it can live without the V-22. The House also voted $1 billion to buy another two dozen F-14D fighter planes the Pentagon says it doesn't want.

The real reason for approving the two planes is that they provide lots of jobs in politically powerful states like New York, Texas and Pennsylvania. Some members of the House admitted as much.

Keeping big defense contractors in the chips by voting for unnecessary aircraft is a form of welfare that the taxpayers cannot afford. No wonder Congress is held in such low esteem by so many people.

The Senate is working on its own version of a defense bill. Let's hope that senators exercise more judgment than the majority in the House. Perhaps a more reasonable measure will then emerge from negotiations in the inevitable House-Senate conference on the issue.