President Bush can shift money to military personnel accounts to avoid laying off troops, but it must come from the Strategic Defense Initiative, the B-2 bomber or two other prized weapons programs, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee says.
"It must be clearly established that military people are a higher priority than hardware," Rep. Les Aspin, D-Wis., said Monday in a letter to Defense Secretary Dick Cheney.Aspin said he does not oppose "some relief for our men and women in uniform" but that the source of the money must be several of the administration's prized strategic weapons.
"Funds for any reprogramming relief for fiscal year 1990 must come from four of the favored weapons programs that were earlier spared larger cuts: SDI, B-2, SSN-21 attack submarine and the Army's light helicopter program," the chairman said.
In addition, Aspin is seeking public assurances from Cheney and White House budget chief Richard Darman that the attempt to shift funds to avoid the impact of the Gramm-Rudman budget-cutting law won't happen again.
Meanwhile, a Pentagon source said Monday that Cheney is determined to find money to cover the personnel expenses, even if he has to shift funds from other accounts without congressional approval.
The defense secretary has legal authority to shift up to $3 billion among accounts without specific approval from Capitol Hill. But such a step might anger lawmakers, since such transfers are supposed to cover only unexpected shortfalls.
The source expressed confidence that an agreement would be worked out by the end of the week, when Congress leaves for its Easter recess.
Aspin and several lawmakers planned to meet with Cheney on Tuesday to discuss the issue.
Aspin had blocked Bush's attempt to transfer $852 million from several Pentagon accounts to military personnel to avoid massive layoffs.