The House is on a collision course with the Senate over the B-2 Stealth bomber and other vast differences in their versions of the fiscal 1991 defense bill.
"There's a couple of sticking points. Clearly, the B-2 is a big one," Rep. Les Aspin, D-Wis., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said after Wednesday's House action.By a party-line vote of 256-155, the House approved a $283 billion defense bill that stops production of the B-2 bomber at the 15 planes in development and slashes $2.4 billion from President Bush's request for the Strategic Defense Initiative, commonly known as "Star Wars."
The Senate, in approving its defense blueprint last month, adopted a $289 billion bill that makes no change in the administration's plan for the B-2 and trims about $1 billion from SDI.
Negotiators for the House and Senate will meet later this month in the hope of finding some common ground in their widely divergent bills and then producing a package acceptable to the president.
Moments before the final House vote, Rep. Bill Dickinson of Alabama, ranking Republican on the Armed Services panel, said Defense Secretary Dick Cheney vowed to recommend a veto of the House measure.
Dickinson also was sharply critical of the final legislation.
"With Democrat defense bills like this, Saddam Hussein should have waited another couple of years before invading Kuwait. That way, we wouldn't have had the men or machines to oppose him," he said.
Aspin and other Democrats shared a different perspective of the package.
"The bill provides for a military still primarily sized and shaped to meet the Soviet threat. But it takes the first steps toward buying the right defense for a new era," Aspin said.
First on the agenda for members of the House and Senate Armed Services committees who will take part in the conference is an overall spending total for defense.
That number will be decided by White House and congressional negotiators hammering out an agreement on how to pare $50 billion from the federal deficit in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.
The most contentious issue for defense bargainers will be the B-2 bomber.
Bush had sought $4.6 billion for two of the bat-winged planes and advanced procurement of parts for six more in fiscal 1992. The Senate concurred with his proposal.
But the House approved ending production of the aircraft, the costliest in history at nearly $865 million a plane, after the 15 bombers already under construction are completed.