Democrat defense cuts
Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee last week slashed Pentagon funding for U.S. missile-defense programs in ways critics say will severely harm efforts to build an integrated system to defend against missile attacks.
A total of $764 million was cut from the $8.9 billion missile-defense budget request during a mark-up hearing on the fiscal 2008 defense authorization bill before the strategic forces subcommittee, headed by Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher, California Democrat.
The Democrats’ most controversial cut came in halving money for building a third ground-based interceptor site in Poland and Czech Republic, effectively killing plans for the site, according to Republican congressional aides. The subcommittee cut $160 million from the $300 million request for the third site and called for a study of the site.
Plans for the third interceptor site are the focus of major U.S. diplomatic efforts to convince the Europeans of the need to begin thinking about countering the threat from Iranian missiles. It also comes amid U.S.-Russian tensions over Moscow’s fears the interceptors would be used to counter Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles, something the Pentagon has said repeatedly the interceptors are incapable of doing.
According to House Republicans, the Democrats are biased against missile defense because they don’t think it will work, and they don’t want a third missile-defense site in Europe to upset the Russians and other anti-defense Europeans.
The Democrats also don’t think the missile threat from Iran poses a danger to Europe, despite the fact that U.S. intelligence agencies say Tehran has medium-range missile now capable of hitting some parts of Europe and is working on longer-range missiles.
The subcommittee also slashed $400 million from the $517 million budget of the exotic Airborne Laser Program, the most prominent “boost phase” missile-defense system that uses a laser gun mounted in a Boeing 747 to shoot down missiles shortly after launch. The cut effectively kills the program, aides said.
The panel also voted to cut $45 million from the $119 million requested for a modernized nuclear warhead, needed to keep the U.S. nuclear arsenal a viable deterrent.
Mrs. Tauscher defended the missile-defense cuts, which likely will be approved by the full committee next week, saying the country needs a system that “works.” She criticized Pentagon missiledefense testing as unrealistic.