Congressional Democrats Eyeing 'Peace Dividend'
WASHINGTON--President Bush's call for deep reductions in the nation's nuclear arsenal has increased the already growing Congressional clamor to shift funds from defense to domestic programs, observers said last week.
The cutbacks outlined by Mr. Bush in a televised address Sept. 27 also are seen by many as making revision of his 1990 budget accord with lawmakers virtually inevitable.
"I've already spent the peace dividend 60 times," said Susan Frost, executive director of the Committee for Education Funding.
Mr. Bush and other Administration officials have sought repeatedly to dampen such expectations. "Some will say that these initiatives call for a budget windfall for domestic programs." the President said in his speech. "But the peace dividend I seek is not measured in dollars but in greater security."
"Given the ambitious plan I have already proposed to reduce U.S. defense spending by 25 percent, we cannot afford to make any unwise or unwarranted cuts in the defense budget I have submitted to Congress." he said.
In subsequent television appearances. Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney and Brent Scowcroft, the President's national-security adviser, said the cutbacks would produce no short-term savings. Additional money. in fact, would be required to accomplish the downsizing, they said.
"Five years out, I think there will be a peace dividend," Mr. Scowcroft said. "1 honestly don't know what the size will be."
Democrats' Calls for Change
But Congressional Democrats clearly do not intend to wait that long. It appeared last week that the President's attempt to defuse calls for even deeper defense cuts may have only increased the Democrats' determination to achieve savings.
Senator Sam Nunn, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. said in a Sept. 29 television appearance that it will be difficult for proponents of the B-2 bomber and the Strategic Defense Initiative to prevail in ongoing negotiations over defense authorization and appropriation bills, now that the President has seemingly undercut their position.
.Mr. Nunn, a Georgia Democrat who is generally seen as an advocate for defense programs, also said that the proposed nuclear-arms reductions imply cuts in bombers and other means of delivering such weapons.
The sweeping changes that have taken place in the Soviet Union had already spurred lawmakers to discuss moving funds from defense to domestic programs.
Representative David R. Obey, Democrat of Wisconsin, forced a vote in the House Appropriations Committee Sept. 24, for example, on an amendment to reduce fiscal 1992 defense spending by 1 percent and transfer the funds to domestic programs and foreign aid.
Mr. Obey lost on a 29-to-15 vote, however, and the House and Senate went on to approve a continuing resolution--needed to keep the government operating until the 1992 spending bills are enacted--that conforms to the budget pact. The fiscal accord sets separate caps for domestic and defense spending and forbids transfers between categories.
But talk of a peace dividend has escalated since the President's address.
Meeting with reporters last week, beth Speaker of the House Thomas S. Foley of Washington and Senator George J. Mitchell of Maine, the Senate majority leader, called for a reassessment of budgetary priorities.
Given Mr. Bush's proposal and changes in the world, Mr. Foley reportedly said, "it is difficult for me to believe that the budget should not be open for review."
Observers agreed last week that a re-examination of the 1990 budget accord is nearly certain, with or without cooperation from the White House.
Scrapping the agreement "would be difficult, but not impossible," without that cooperation, a Senate leadership aide said.
Ms. Frost said education advocates are already working to snag the anticipated peace dividend by ensuring that new money is allocated next year to the appropriations subcommittee that oversees education.
"We have to make sure we're involved with the transfer from the very beginning, to ensure that education and health and other programs for kids are in the forefront of the discussion," Ms. Frost said.
Transfer Attempts Foreseen
With fiscal 1992 already under way, it may be too late to effect funding transfers this year. But Congressional aides and observers predicted that some lawmakers would try to do so when the remaining appropriations bills are debated, or in debate on another continuing resolution if the regular funding bills have not been approved when the current stopgap measure expires Oct. 29.
"Some of our members will undoubtedly try it, and it's not inconceivable," said a Democratic appropriations aide. "But I wouldn't bet the proverbial farm."
Observers said the outcome of negotiations on defense spending will determine if there is a chance to shift money to domestic programs in 1992.
Ms. Frost said that talk of reassessment would in any case help education advocates as the social-services spending bill goes to a House-Senate conference.
"It certainly gets rid of this ridiculous argument that you can't spend money this year because of the implications for 1993," she said. "Now '93 looks like a different picture." Ms. Frost was referring to the fact that the budget caps are based on outlays, or the money actually spent in a given fiscal year. Because most money appropriated for education programs in a particular fiscal year is not spent until later years, some lawmakers have argued that increasing spending authority for education programs this year would put appropriators in a difficult bind in the future, when the caps are to become tighter.
That peculiarity could help education programs obtain part of a peace dividend, Ms. Frost noted, since cuts in defense spending generally result in lower outlays only in later years-when increased education spending would actually reach schools.
Vol. 11, Issue 06, Page 28Published in Print: October 9, 1991, as Congressional Democrats Eyeing 'Peace Dividend'