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CONGRESSIONAL GOP FINDING BARRIERS TO DEFENSE BOOSTS

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Congressional Republicans are anxious to boost defense spending with their new majority power but admit that their own agenda of cutting taxes and eliminating the deficit might make that impossible.

At most, the Republicans may reshuffle White House priorities to boost weapons such as the "Star Wars" anti-missile system, the B-2 Stealth bomber and the C-17 transport plane, at the expense of such Democratic favorites as defense conversion and the Seawolf submarine."We realize we're not going to get large increases in defense spending," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. "But what may be in the cards is a significant rearrangement of priorities."

The Republican "Contract With America" urges "restoration of the essential parts of our national security funding." For the short term, the document suggests this can be accomplished at no cost.

"There's not a dime's worth of defense spending increase in the contract," said Rep. Dick Armey, R-Texas, soon to be Republican majority leader.

Instead, the contract would establish a commission to examine the nation's defense spending needs and make recommendations in 1996.

Of immediate concern for President Clinton is GOP criticism of U.S. military deployments to Haiti and Rwanda, of NATO's inability to improve the situation in Bosnia and of the negotiated truce with North Korea over the development of nuclear weapons.

"I think the president should know that the Republicans who control the Congress have a much different view on areas like Haiti and Bosnia and North Korea," said Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., the incoming Senate majority leader.

But the budget quandary facing the Republicans remains.

The Defense Budget Project, a Washington-based research group, said the balanced budget amendment - the No. 1 legislative priority for the House Republicans - "would create tremendous pressures to make deeper cuts in defense spending, especially if the balanced budget requirement were combined with the large tax cuts also included in the Republican plan."

Clinton early this month proposed spending $25 billion more for defense over six years to raise military pay and improve readiness. He will also ask Congress for $2 billion in emergency funds to add to this year's $253 billion Pentagon budget. That money would help pay for the Haiti, Rwanda and Persian Gulf deployments.