As a counter to the proposal to halt funding for the U.S. troop deployment
by mid-1998, senators were also considering a nonbinding measure expressing
the desire to withdraw U.S. troops by the end of June 1998. Debate on the
measures began Thursday and was expected to continue today.
President Clinton has promised to bring U.S. troops home by next June, but
members of both parties have been frustrated with a mission that continues
to drag on, after earlier assurances that it would end last December, and
with the soaring cost of deployment.
But some are concerned a funding cutoff would send the wrong message at
a vulnerable point in the Bosnian peace process.
``Our troops are on the ground,'' said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott,
R-Miss. ``We have some very serious circumstances that have evolved there
in the last 24 hours.'' He urged members to ``think very carefully'' before
imposing restrictions on Clinton.
Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., proposed the outright funding cutoff for
the troop deployment as of next June 30. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., ranking
Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, then offered a substitute,
nonbinding measure declaring the U.S. intention to pull out of Bosnia in
mid-1998 and to turn over the burden of patrolling the war-torn country
to European allies.
``The Europeans should take a greater responsibility,'' Levin said. He said
his measure expressed ``the intention of Congress that a follow-on force,
which is likely to be necessary or may be necessary, is going to be one
that will not have American ground combat troops.''
But Sen. John Warner, R-Va., said he could not support a plan to have the
Europeans accept the entire Bosnia burden.
``You're going to say we'll now have a policy when there's a risk our people
will go to a safe haven in some other land and let the (allied) chaps ...
stay in harm's way?'' Warner asked. ``I find that unbelievable.''
In June, the House passed a proposal closer to Feingold's that would actually
cut off funding for the troop deployment. Differences in the House and Senate
versions would have to be worked out in negotiations.
Both House and Senate Bosnia proposals were part of the debate on the $268
billion defense authorization bill for fiscal 1998, which begins Oct. 1.
Clinton is unlikely to veto the entire bill over a sense-of-Congress measure.
But the administration has expressed vehement opposition to any proposal
ending the funding.
Feingold chided the administration for repeatedly upping its estimate of
the cost of the Bosnia mission, from less than $2 billion when it was supposed
to last a year to more than $7 billion after the current extended mission
``What we now have with U.S. involvement in the Bosnia operation is not
mission creep, it has become dollar creep,'' Feingold said.
NATO's decision to launch raids that nabbed one indicted Bosnia war crimes
suspect, killed another and left two other Bosnian Serbs under arrest marked
a sharp departure from the past cautious handling of accused war criminals.
For a year and a half, NATO relied on local officials turning in their own.
But the resulting stalemate led many in Congress to argue that unrest in
Bosnia would continue as long as war criminals went free.
Separately Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee and House Appropriations
defense subcommittee recommended their versions of the defense spending
plan for next year, each recommending modest increases in Clinton's request.
The House and Senate will have to work out major differences in their defense
budgets. The House wants to add $331 million as a down payment on nine more
B-2 bombers that could end up costing more than $13 billion. The Senate
bill specifically opposes any funding for B-2s beyond the 21 now in service
or on order.
The Senate legislation instead emphasizes shipbuilding, seeking accelerated
spending on a new aircraft carrier and funding for four Aegis destroyers,
one more than Clinton requested. Unlike the Senate bill, the House also
proposed a sharp cut in the Navy's FA-18 E and F fighter program.