Democrats in Senate Budge on Missile Defense Money

September 19, 2001, New York Times

WSHINGTON, Sept. 18 - In an effort to avoid a partisan debate after the terrorist attacks last week, Senate Democrats have agreed to withdraw a budget provision that would have restricted certain kinds of spending on missile defense.

Under a plan still being hammered out this evening, the Democrats would remove a provision from the Pentagon budget that would have required the administration to seek Congressional approval to spend money on activities that would violate the Antiballistic Missile Treaty.

The provision was added to the $329 billion Pentagon budget bill by the Democratic-controlled Senate Armed Services Committee two weeks ago in an effort to prevent the Bush administration from using money for missile defense testing and development to break out of the 1972 ABM Treaty.

Senate Republicans and the administration strongly objected to the provision, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld recommended that President Bush veto the spending bill if it contained the restriction.

Worried that the restriction would spark a contentious floor debate, Democrats agreed to remove the provision. "They are trying to head off every partisan issue they can," said an aide to a Democratic senator who opposes the missile defense plan. "It was a brilliant provision, and I'm very sad it's being stripped out."

Senator John W. Warner of Virginia, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the agreement to remove the provision was reached after several days of intense negotiations with Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the committee's Democratic chairman.

"We're making good progress toward getting a bill up that can meet the goals of the administration, my committee Republicans and the Democrats," Senator Warner said.

Floor debate on the Pentagon budget could begin as soon as Wednesday, though votes are not expected until Friday.
Democratic officials said the ABM provision would probably still be introduced as a stand-alone bill, perhaps as soon as Wednesday. But it was unclear tonight when a vote would be taken on the proposal, and many Democrats predicted that the Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle, would postpone it for weeks.

"The idea is to kick the can down the road a bit," a Democratic official said.

The budget bill that the Democrats plan to bring to the floor this week includes a Democratic provision that cuts $1.3 billion from Mr. Bush's $8.3 billion missile defense program, using the money for other defense needs.

Republicans also object strongly to that measure, and Mr. Warner said the issue was still being negotiated this evening by himself, Mr. Levin and Mr. Rumsfeld.

If the Democrats do not restore the $1.3 billion to missile defense, Mr. Warner said he would probably introduce an amendment to do so.

"If we're not able to bridge that gap," Mr. Warner said, "I intend to offer amendments to clearly support the administration's position."

Some Democrats predicted that an amendment to restore the money would trigger a floor debate. "They'll have to stand on the floor and offer an amendment that says we want to take $1.3 billion from something else we need," a Democratic Senate aide said. "when we've just faced an attack where missile defense wouldn't have helped."

Some Democratic officials said that if the Republicans offered an amendment to restore the $1.3 billion, many Democrats were likely to support it.

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