WASHINGTON -- US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Monday the biggest proposed defense budget increase since the Cold War will fall tens of billions of dollars short of making up for years of decline in the US military's combat readiness and strength.
Rumsfeld asked Congress to approve closures of more unneeded bases and give the Pentagon a freer hand to make efficiencies to turn "waste into weapons."
"The under-investment and overuse of the force went on far too long, the gap is too great, the hole we're in is too deep, there's no way to spend our way out of it in one year," Rumsfeld said in testimony before the House Appropriates subcommittee on defense.
What I'm worried about is if you as secretary of defense and General (Henry) Shelton knows that the country is underfunding the defense budget then why can't we convince the president ... that we've got to have a significant increase or we're going to let America's military capability deteriorate.
US Rep Norm Dicks
President George W. Bush has submitted an amended 328.9 billion dollar defense budget for 2002 -- a 32.4 billion dollar increase over the previous year that the Pentagon says is the largest since the height of the military buildup under Ronald Reagan in the mid-1980s.
The amended request would add 18.4 billion dollars to an earlier administration 2002 budget blueprint.
But Bush, who campaigned on a promise to rebuild the US military, has come under attack from defense hawks in his own party, as well as Democrats, for holding back on even bigger defense increases that the Pentagon and some experts say are needed to modernize the armed forces.
Two conservative columnists -- Robert Kagan and William Kristol -- writing in the Weekly Standard called Monday on Rumsfeld to resign rather than permit "the impending evisceration of the American military."
They blamed the White House, which they said halved the Pentagon's request for a 35 billion dollar add-on to the defense budget. Some studies have said defense increases of 50 to 60 billion dollars a year are need to reverse a post-Cold War decline in weapons procurement and readiness.
Democrats also pounced on the issue, portraying Bush as going soft on defense.
"What I'm worried about is if you as secretary of defense and General (Henry) Shelton knows that the country is underfunding the defense budget then why can't we convince the president ... that we've got to have a significant increase or we're going to let America's military capability deteriorate," said Representative Norman Dicks, a Democrat from Washington state.
Rumsfeld defended the budget proposal and sought to shift the blame to "years and years of neglect" by the previous administration.
But, acknowledging that the proposed 2002 budget increase will not be enough, he said the Pentagon will need another 18 billion dollar increase next year just to stay even.
"To get well by 2007, that is, to meet current requirements in areas like readiness, proper flying time, training, maintenance and so forth, would cost the American taxpayers tens of billions of dollars more," he said.
"And that's before calculating the additional investment that would be needed for transformation," he added.
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