President Bush met with Defense Secretary Dick Cheney Friday and will decide within days whether to shelve development of the mobile, single-warhead intercontinental ballistic missile known as the Midgetman, his spokesman said Friday.
With as much as $40 billion in expenditures at stake, Bush met with Cheney, Secretary of State James Baker and national security adviser Brent Scowcroft to discuss his final decision about whether to seek 1990 funding for the Midgetman as well as for the MX missile, according to spokesman Marlin Fitzwater.Fitzwater said Scowcroft reported after the session that Bush had made no decision but would probably do so by early next week.
Cheney, just back from a meeting in Europe with NATO defense ministers, has lined up with others who suggest moving the larger MX missiles from silos to rail cars to make them mobile as a less costly alternative to the Midgetman, which enjoys support in Congress.
Modernization of the U.S. land-based missile force was one of the earliest major decisions Bush faced - and postponed - earlier this year amid what he calls his comprehensive review of national security issues.
Asked earlier Friday if the decision was imminent, Fitzwater told reporters, "If you mean by next week, yes. Secretary Cheney has budget testimony next (Tuesday); I would expect that we'd have a decision before he testifies."
In an interview Thursday, Bush hinted that bipartisan pressure from Congress might persuade him to reject Cheney's recommendation against the Midgetman and to seek some compromise package incorporating both missile systems.
Wednesday, bipartisan congressional leaders - including Rep. Les Aspin of Wisconsin, the Democratic chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Sen. John Warner of Virginia, ranking Republican on the Senate's counterpart panel - told reporters Bush would be wise to seek opinion from Capitol Hill, where any budget request would have to win support for passage.
Both Aspin and Warner said they support a combined missile package, and funding would have to be found in the Pentagon budget.