Unable to break an impasse over missile defenses and relations with Russia, the Senate put aside a defense authorization bill until September and worked Friday toward finishing a military spending measure instead.
Senate leaders crafted a compromise to break the logjam over whether to develop a national missile defense system despite Russia's objections. The question as the Senate headed for its August break was whether the members would accept it.Unable to move forward on the defense authorization bill, the Senate instead began debate on a defense appropriations measure that seeks $242.7 billion for fiscal 1996, beginning Oct. 1, a $1.1 billion increase over this year's defense spending. The measure also represents a $6.4 billion increase over what Clinton had requested.
Failure to complete the defense authorization this week marks a defeat for the Republican leadership and for Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Thurmond spent most of Thursday on the floor but was not able to announce a bipartisan agreement that would allow his legislation to go forward.
"They don't want to reach agreement," said Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., a member of the Armed Services panel. "The White House doesn't want to reach an agreement."
The defense authorization bill contains language requiring the Pentagon to develop a multi-site national missile defense system. That contradicts the terms of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which limits Russia and the United States to one defense site each. Moscow has said it will pursue START II arms reductions only if the ABM treaty remains in force.
Four days of closed-door talks between Republican and Democratic leaders yielded a compromise plan, according to Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.:
- The bill restricts the president's ability to negotiate changes in the ABM treaty; the compromise restores the president's freedom to negotiate.
- The bill orders development of a national missile defense system by 2003; the compromise says deployment would depend on the results of studies of the system's affordability, the threat it would be designed to defeat, its military effectiveness, and its effect on the ABM treaty.
- The bill contains strict language establishing the characteristics of shorter-range theater missile defenses such as the Patriot missile, characteristics not contained in the ABM treaty; the compromise changes the strict language to "sense of the Senate" language. If the president negotiates changes in the ABM treaty that would restrict the capability of theater missile defense systems, he would have to seek approval of Congress.
Sen. James Exon, D-Neb., an Armed Services member, said the White House may be prepared to veto the defense measure even if the ABM impasse is resolved. Exon and Clinton administration officials oppose language in the bill that would allow for the resumption of small-scale nuclear tests, a move that could complicate negotiations to extend the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.