Congress votes cash for arms

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The Independent Online
Kenneth Galbraith, the Harvard economist, wrote an article in the New York Times in February defining the word "burden" as understood by Newt Gingrich and his congressional Republicans, self-styled crusaders whose holy grail is a balanced federal budget by 2002.

Welfare payments, especially to unmarried mothers, represented a heavy burden on the American taxpayer, Professor Galbraith explained. So did expenditure on child nutrition and public education. "Defense expenditure", however, "is definitely not a burden", despite the lack of a wholly plausible enemy.

Since the article appeared, the House of Representatives, over which Mr Gingrich presides as Speaker, has indeed approved radical cuts on expenditure destined for America's poor.

Yesterday the House approved a budget of $11.2bn (pounds 7bn) for improved housing for the military in 1996, an increase of $2.5bn (pounds 1.6bn), or 28 per cent, over this year's budget and $500m (pounds 312m) more than the Pentagon itself had requested.

Last week the House authorised an overall 1996 defense budget of $267bn (pounds 170bn), $9bn (pounds 5.6bn) more than the Pentagon had requested. A request for the purchase of two B-2 Stealth bombers, which sell for $1.2bn (pounds 600m) each, was also approved, although the US Air Force had told Congress that they did not need any more B-2s - the 20 on order were quite sufficient.

The authorisation for the two extra B-2s won majority support in the House despite opposition from congressman John Kasich, the Republican's Budget Committee chairman. As the original purpose of the B-2 was "to fly around the Soviet Union in the middle of a nuclear war looking for things to bomb", Mr Kasich said he was at a loss to understand the decision.

Pat Schroeder, a Democrat from Colorado, provided the answer. "We are just doing this to keep some defense contractors who put out big political contributions, I think, alive."

As the Washington Post wrote: "The word is out to all the special interests: This Congress can be rolled. The biggest target the B-2 is ever likely to hit is your wallet."