WASHINGTON – The Pentagon's budget chief says he is optimistic that Congress, even with Democrats controlling the Senate, will approve big spending increases for missile defense for 2002 and beyond.
Dov Zakheim, the comptroller of the Defense Department, told reporters Thursday that the first significant increases for missile defense will be seen in President Bush's amended 2002 budget request for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1. He said it will be presented to Congress in a few weeks.
Missile defense is not among programs named for spending boosts in Bush's request for an extra $5.6 billion to the current $296 billion defense budget. The president submitted that request to Congress Friday, adding to it an additional $400 million request for spending on energy, health, housing, transportation and other areas.
In his letter to Congress, Bush said the request "is primarily for defense activities related to pay, support, training and quality of life for military personnel, as well as regular operations costs."
"It is imperative to reverse the pattern of underfunding these costs," Bush said.
The request for the Pentagon actually is for $6.1 billion, but it would be offset partially by proposed cuts of $505 million, resulting in a net increase of $5.6 billion.
Zakheim refused to discuss any budget figures for missile defense or other defense programs. Nor would he comment on suggestions that Bush would ask Congress to add $20 billion to $30 billion to the 2002 budget, which was pegged at $310 billion when it was submitted with the expectation of add-ons.
Bush has taken this long to propose increases in the 2002 budget because he has been waiting for preliminary results of a series of policy reviews overseen by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
Zakheim said that while the 2002 budget "starts to point in the direction we wish to go" with military modernization, the first budget plan to incorporate Bush's defense priorities fully will be the 2003 budget, to be put together in the second half of this year and presented to Congress early next year.
The budget chief said he sees little reason to expect a partisan battle over missile defense spending.
"I'm reasonably sanguine, and I'll tell you why," he said. "I don't think it's as partisan an issue as you might, perhaps. And that is because ... it was a very different world" when former President Reagan first proposed a space-based missile defense aimed at stopping an all-out Soviet missile attack.
"We're not out there to zap the Russians; we're not out there to zap the Chinese," Zakheim said. "The context has changed completely. And I believe that there are a lot of Democrats who see this."
Congress has supported building a defense against ballistic missile attack when the technology is ready. The power shift in the Senate means, however, that Sen. Carl Levin, as the new chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, will have a greater voice in this and other defense programs. And Levin, a Michigan Democrat, has been skeptical of the technical feasibility of missile defense.
Zakheim refused to say how much Bush might propose adding to the budget for missile defense.
"I believe that the current level, as has been budgeted up to now, is seriously inadequate," he said. "We will have to add more" for research and testing various technologies. "That's going to mean -- if you're serious about it -- it's going to mean considerably more money."
Bush has said he wants the Pentagon to look beyond the approaches to missile defense taken during the Clinton administration, which were focused mainly on proving the feasibility of using land-based missiles to intercept ballistic missiles during the midcourse of their flight.
Bush is expected to instruct the Pentagon to examine the feasibility of sea-based and possibly space-based missile defenses, which would be used to protect not only the United States but many of its allies.