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U.S.: Clinton To Sign Defense Spending Legislation

Despite concerns, U.S. President Bill Clinton is to sign a congressional bill that appropriated more money for America's defenses than the president had sought. The defense appropriation measure was just one budget battle between the Republican-controlled Congress and the Democratic president. Still to be resolved is the amount of money for U.S. overseas operations, including foreign assistance. RFE/RL's Frank T. Csongos reports:

Washington, 26 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton is reluctantly going along with Congress in approving a $268 billion spending bill for America's armed forces.

White House press secretary Joe Lockhart told reporters Monday that Clinton will not veto the legislation despite concerns that it contains unnecessary expenditures.

Lockhart said Clinton considers a 4.8 percent military pay raise contained in the bill a priority and therefore he will not return the bill to Congress. The president has no line item veto authority which would allow him to pick and choose between items he likes and dislikes. He must sign or veto the entire measure.

The press secretary also said Clinton was confident he could have gathered the votes to support a veto but did not wish to spark a debate that would have distracted from pressing domestic issues.

The fiscal 2000 defense spending bill increases funds for military operations and keeps the controversial F-22 stealth fighter program alive. It provides about $4.4 billion more than the Clinton administration requested and $17 billion more than last year's defense bill.

Clinton has already returned to Congress a bill that would have funded America's foreign operations because of congressional cutbacks. At a news conference on Monday, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright urged Congress to boost funding.

Albright noted that only one cent out of every dollar the federal government spends goes for such programs as foreign aid, maintaining U.S. embassies and fighting international terrorism. She said these programs help promote American interests.

Congress cut by $2 billion Clinton's request for foreign operations, approving 12.6 billion for the fiscal year that began in October.

Albright noted that the congressional budget proposal contains no money for helping to fund the Wye River Middle East peace agreement. She also criticized a congressional move to cut back by 29 percent a U.S. program to help the Russians destroy aging nuclear weapons and materials.

The secretary of state said virtually every cent requested by Clinton is necessary to run America's foreign operations.

"We need it. It's not a matter of our sitting here and trying to make up budgets that ask for more than we need. We are down to bare bones."

Albright said U.S. national interests would be imperiled unless Congress reconsiders the cuts. "I think it's embarrassing for a country like the United States, with the biggest economy in the world and the greatest potential. It's in our national interest that we try to prevent conflicts, try to assist those who are suffering, try to prevent the spread of AIDS, try to prevent the spread of terrorism. This is not a giveaway program; this is in America's national interest. And that's the arguments I'm going to be making."

Albright said the choice for America in the next century is whether it will play "the role of ostrich or of eagle" and, as she put it, "whether we will bury our heads in the sand or remain vigilant."

Clinton has signed seven of the 13 spending bills to fund the government in the 2000 fiscal year. The largest spending bill, dealing with education and health and social services, remains before Congress

Senator Pete Domenici (R-New Mexico), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said he is seeking compromises on the domestic legislation. Domenici said the Republican-controlled Senate does not need confrontation with the Democratic White House.