Nunn Warns Pentagon And Democrats On Cuts

Posted: March 23, 1990

WASHINGTON — The influential chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee assailed the Pentagon yesterday for basing its proposed 1991 budget "on a 1988 threat and a 1988 strategy."

But Sen. Sam Nunn (D., Ga.) also criticized members of his own party for seeking deep military budget cuts that he said would anger the nation's troops, force them from their chosen careers and consequently "damage our ability to respond to future threats."

Nunn's Senate remarks were his first extensive public comments on next year's Pentagon budget. He has a reputation throughout the government as an expert on defense matters, and his views are considered important because many senators in both parties look to him for guidance.

Nunn said the Pentagon's proposed $306 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 was riddled with "blanks" that prevent Congress from making wise decisions. He cited the proposal to continue buying enough F-16 fighters to equip an Air Force far larger than Pentagon officials now believe will exist in five years.

"If the Department of Defense wants to remain relevant in this process," Nunn told his colleagues, "they must begin filling in these big blanks in the defense budget."

Instead of rebuilding the budget from the ground up based on the changed world, Nunn said, Pentagon officials have simply scaled back budgets created when a menacing Soviet empire and Warsaw Pact dictated military spending levels. 'They have not adjusted the underlying assumptions about threat and strategy," he said.

Nunn offered no suggestions for items that should be canceled, nor did he suggest how big next year's military budget should be.

But he warned that a proposal by Sen. Jim Sasser (D., Tenn.), chairman of the Budget Committee, to cut $17 billion from the 1991 budget would "require very disruptive changes."

Without naming Sasser, Nunn said such a reduction would force deep cuts in personnel and maintenance accounts. "If we are not careful and sensitive in dealing with our men and women in the military services," Nunn said, "we will damage our ability to respond to future threats."

A smarter approach - one endorsed last week by Rep. Les Aspin (D., Wis.), Nunn's House counterpart - would seek deep cuts in weapons accounts, which generate smaller savings initially but substantial savings over time, Nunn said.

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