Bay Area Liberals Lead House Panel’s Defense-cut Plan

March 9th, 2006 - by admin

Edward Epstein / San Francisco Chronicle – 2006-03-09 08:43:36

WASHINGTON (March 9, 2006) — House liberals, led by a Bay Area duo, proposed a $60 billion cut in President Bush’s proposed $439 billion military budget on Wednesday, with the savings to go to a variety of domestic programs and for deficit reduction.

The proposal from members of the House Progressive Caucus, which is co-chaired by Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, and Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, is a daring venture in an election year when proponents risk being painted as advocating weakened national security while the country is at war in Iraq and Afghanistan and fighting terrorism.

But the advocates of the “Common Sense Budget Act” said wasteful Pentagon spending, mainly on Cold War-era weapons that they say are no longer relevant, endanger national security.

“It’s time we invested more in our people and less in our defense contractors,” Woolsey said at a Capitol Hill news conference.

The proposal doesn’t involve Bush’s latest emergency request for $72.4 billion for ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The supplemental appropriation request is separate from the president’s proposed Defense Department budget for the coming fiscal year.

That supplemental spending proposal started moving through Congress on Wednesday along with $19.8 billion for Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts. A House vote is expected next week.

The Lee-Woolsey proposal, whose 15 co-sponsors include Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, and Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, calls for saving $28 billion by killing such weapons systems as the FA-22 fighter or the Virginia class submarine, $14 billion by cutting the number of nuclear warheads in the U.S. arsenal to 1,000, $8 billion by scaling back the missile defense development program, $5 billion by cutting two Air Force wings and a Navy carrier group, and $5 billion by making the Pentagon more efficient.

The list was put together by Lawrence Korb, who served as assistant secretary of defense under President Ronald Reagan. He is now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank critical of the Bush administration.

Backers have a wish list for spending the proposed $60 billion in defense savings: $5 billion to homeland security improvements, including a program to inspect all 11 million shipping containers that enter the country annually; $10 billion to move toward energy independence; $10 billion for children’s health care; $10 billion for school construction; $5 billion for job training; $2 billion for medical research; and $13 billion for overseas humanitarian aid. Another $5 billion would go to start cutting the rising national debt.

The proposal, Lee said, would “slash $60 billion from the defense budget without diminishing our ability to protect our nation.”

But there’s little chance Republican House leaders will allow a committee or a floor vote on the plan.

Conservatives in both houses will probably propose further cuts in nondefense domestic spending to pay for the added money going toward the wars and Katrina, as they did last year. The Republican-led Congress has rejected the idea of raising taxes to pay for the war or for the Gulf Coast disaster recovery.

While it isn’t likely that the liberals’ proposal will get a hearing in the House, their supporters promise to keep the idea alive. The organization Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities, whose leaders include Ben Cohen, co-founder of the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream chain, are buying ads in Iowa and New Hampshire — two states that will play a key early role in the 2008 presidential primary season — to boost the idea of the $60 billion cut in Pentagon spending.

“We know once the people there see how this money is spent, they will come to conclude on their own that it’s right,” Cohen said of the proposed cut.

In all, 59 liberal Democrats belong to the House Progressive Caucus. Others from the Bay Area who are members include Reps. George Miller of Martinez, Sam Farr of Carmel and Tom Lantos of San Mateo. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco has been a longtime caucus member but as leader has a policy of not belonging to any individual caucuses.

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