Inouye Backs Bush Bid for Increased Defense Spending

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Byline: Rowan Scarborough

A key Senate Democrat yesterday endorsed President Bush's bid for up to $18.4 billion in extra defense dollars next year as the GOP searches for the 60 Senate votes needed to make the first payment on the president's military transformation.

"I, for one, believe it is essential that we provide the resources necessary for defense," said Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, Hawaii Democrat and chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on defense. "It would be easy to play politics on this issue, but this is too important, and so I will not take part in any effort which could shortchange national defense for political gain."

Mr. Inouye's remarks came at a hearing during which Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld reiterated that the administration is sticking by its total request of $329 billion in fiscal 2002 to shore up readiness lost in the 1990s and to improve health care.

Democrats have charged that Mr. Bush's tax cut, and a slowing economy, will force lawmakers to dip into Social Security surpluses that would otherwise be used to pay down the national debt.

Amid the partisan atmosphere, Mr. Inouye is an important new ally for Mr. Bush as a showdown is brewing between the president and Senate Democratic leaders over the size of defense spending.

Because the White House's $18.4 billion request came late in the process, the Senate and House budget resolutions set defense spending at lower levels. This means pro-defense senators will have to muster 60 votes to bypass the resolution if a senator objects to approving the higher number.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, and Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat, have sent signals they may oppose much of the increase in favor of more domestic spending. …