WASHINGTON – When John Kerry offered a surprise plan to trim $43 billion in spending a decade ago, he encountered some harsh resistance: The cuts would threaten national security. U.S. fighter pilots would be endangered. And the battle against terrorism would be hampered, opponents charged.
And that's just what Kerry's fellow Democrats had to say.
"We are putting blindfolds over our pilots' eyes," Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, a decorated World War II veteran (search), said of the impact of Kerry's proposed intelligence cuts. Senators rejected Kerry's plan on a vote of 75-20.
As Kerry, now a presidential candidate, assails President Bush's stewardship of national security, his own voting record in the Senate is coming under increasing scrutiny. On Thursday, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona came to Kerry's defense, saying the Massachusetts Democrat wasn't weak on defense.
Kerry's plan was offered in February 1994 as Congress debated spending plans. At the time, Kerry was a champion of trimming spending to balance the budget, but his plan, offered as an amendment, also came on the heels of significant defense and intelligence cuts already imposed by President Clinton and the Congress.
When Kerry introduced his plan, he focused his arguments on the elimination of wasteful or unnecessary domestic programs over several years, hardly mentioning the money he wanted cut from military and intelligence programs.
"What we have offered to the Senate is an opportunity to register our votes for real choices, for a set of choices that reflect what the American people would really like to be spending their money on as opposed to being forced to spend it by the continuation of programs that the president has asked to have cut; that the National Academy of Sciences (search) boards have said are worthless; that most of the evaluations say are wasteful," Kerry argued.
A handful of senators joined Kerry in support. "We have to make some decisions. We cannot continue to try to do everything," said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.
But several of the Democrats' longest serving senators zeroed in immediately on the cuts Kerry proposed for military and intelligence.
"The amendment offered by the senator from Massachusetts would reduce the fiscal year 1994 budget for national defense by nearly $4 billion," said Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., then the powerful Appropriations Committee chairman. "We have already cut defense spending drastically. ... Cutting another $4 billion is simply unwise and insupportable."
Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., then the Intelligence Committee chairman, took Kerry to task at the time for reducing intelligence spending by $6 billion over six years, saying it would leave Americans vulnerable while facing problems such as the war in Bosnia (search), nuclear proliferation and terrorism.
"It makes no sense for us to close our eyes and ears to developments around the world," he said, wondering aloud why Kerry didn't raise the idea of his cuts with the committee first.
Inouye rebuked Kerry for proposing military cuts without consulting Pentagon leaders. "This is clearly micromanaging the Defense Department without any input from our military commanders," the Hawaii Democrat said.
Inouye several times criticized the Kerry amendment for what he said was contradictory spending choices. For instance, he said, it would stop production of Titan missiles capable of carrying military satellites into the sky even as the military proceeded with new satellite development.
And he said, Kerry's plan would cut intelligence gathering at a time when the Clinton administration was considering an air war in the Balkans.