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Friday, March 12, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Bush charges on Kerry record miss the mark

By Walter Pincus and Dana Milbank
The Washington Post

Arlen Specter
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WASHINGTON — President Bush, in his first major assault on Sen. John Kerry's legislative record, said this week that his Democratic opponent proposed a $1.5 billion cut in the intelligence budget, a proposal that would "gut the intelligence services," and one that had no co-sponsors because it was "deeply irresponsible."

Bush is correct that the Massachusetts senator on Sept. 29, 1995, proposed a five-year, $1.5 billion cut to the intelligence budget. But he appears to be wrong when he said the proposed Kerry cut — roughly 1 percent of the overall intelligence budget for those years — would have "gutted" intelligence. In fact, the Republican-led Congress that year approved legislation that resulted in $3.8 billion being cut over five years from the budget of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) — the same program Kerry says he was targeting.

The $1.5 billion cut Kerry proposed represented roughly the same amount Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., then chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, told the Senate that same day he wanted cut from the intelligence spending bill based on unspent, secret funds that had been accumulated by one intelligence agency "without informing the Pentagon, CIA or Congress." The NRO, which designs, builds and operates spy satellites, had accumulated that amount of excess funds.

Richard Shelby
Bush's charge that Kerry's broader defense-spending reduction bill had no co-sponsors is true, but not because it was seen as irresponsible. While Kerry's measure never was taken up, Specter's plan to reduce the NRO's funds, which Kerry co-sponsored with Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., did become law as part of a House-Senate package endorsed by the GOP leadership.

In his campaign speech Monday, Bush said that back in 1995, "two years after the attack on the (first) World Trade Center, my opponent introduced a bill to cut the overall intelligence budget by one and a half billion dollars. His bill was so deeply irresponsible that he didn't have a single co-sponsor in the United States Senate. Once again, Senator Kerry is trying to have it both ways. He's for good intelligence, yet he was willing to gut the intelligence services. And that is no way to lead a nation in a time of war."

Bush repeated the charge in New York last night, saying: "intelligence spending is necessary, not wasteful."

White House spokesman Trent Duffy referred questions about the Monday speech to the Bush-Cheney campaign. Terry Holt, spokesman for the campaign, said he would look into the origins of the speech. But, he said, "The president was using one very appropriate example of Kerry's lack of commitment to the intelligence community."

On Sept. 29, 1995, Kerry introduced S. 1290, the "Responsible Deficit Reduction Act of 1995." On page five of the 16-page bill, Kerry proposed to "Reduce the Intelligence budget by $300 million in each of fiscal years 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2000." The item was one of 17 cuts Kerry proposed from the defense budget, including a phase-out of two Army light divisions and ending production of Trident D5 submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The bill also proposed 17 nondefense cuts.

Five days before Kerry introduced his legislation, The Washington Post reported that the NRO had hoarded between $1 billion and $1.7 billion of unspent funds without informing the CIA or the Pentagon.

Kerry campaign officials said yesterday that the $1.5 billion in cuts he proposed were meant to take back that money — but the legislation and Kerry's floor statement did not specify the reason for the proposed cuts. The campaign has no proof that the cuts were for this purpose, but officials note his joining Specter and others in proposing legislation that resulted in reducing the NRO's fund reserves over the next five years.

Four days before Kerry's legislation was introduced, the House and Senate defense appropriations subcommittee chairmen, Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., and Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, announced they had "agreed upon additional reductions to NRO funding in order to ensure only such amounts as are necessary." They did not disclose amounts at that time.

Under the congressional plan approved in late 1995, some $1.9 billion was taken from NRO reserve funds through 1997, and another $1.9 billion over the next two years, according to a senior intelligence official familiar with the NRO's activities.


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