Originally created 08/01/98

Senate moves to raise military pay



WASHINGTON -- The Senate voted Thursday to increase a military pay raise and to require that the president consult with Congress before involving U.S. military forces in Kosovo.

Senators rejected a move to force a reduction in troops in Bosnia and slipped in a $1.9 billion emergency fund to support troops in Bosnia as part a $252 billion defense appropriation.

Military pay would go up 3.6 percent next year, rather than the 3.1 percent approved last month by the House, under an amendment to the defense bill. Salary funds were increased by cutting back on amounts for operations and maintenance in all branches of the military.

The Senate passed the spending bill 97-2 late Thursday -- the last bill debated before its monthlong summer break. Sens. Russell Feingold, D-Wisc., and Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., voted no. Only Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., did not vote.

The bill would provide $3 billion more for defense than is being spent this year, just over a 1 percent increase. A conference committee will have to work out differences between House and Senate versions of the bill.

The House bill sets aside $20 million for compensating victims and rebuilding a cable car system damaged Feb. 3 when a low-flying Marine jet sliced a gondola cable, killing 20 people, in the Italian Alps.

The Senate bill contains no similar funding but recognizes the obligation of the U.S. government to compensate victims and calls for a quick and fair resolution of the matter.

Senators, in a measure aimed primarily at China, voted to deny visas to any foreign officials involved in religious persecution, forced abortions, forced sterilization or genital mutilation.

The action on Kosovo, the embattled province of Serbia, is similar to weak restrictions already imposed on extending troops in Bosnia. Defense funding has passed the House without the Kosovo restriction.

President Clinton retains the option of a Kosovo deployment under the amendment, as long as he justifies it to Congress. He would have to explain the mission, the cost and a timetable for pulling out.

The administration has not said it plans to send more troops to the Balkans, but Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., predicted: "The United States and Western European nations are on the verge of an expensive and dangerous involvement in Kosovo."

He said Clinton has yet to explain a rationale for U.S. involvement to stop repression in Kosovo. Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, blamed by U.S. officials for instigating violence against ethnic Albanians in the province, said Thursday the latest offensive is over, and he is ready to talk peace.

"This amendment is a 'warning order' to the administration that it needs to answer important questions before sending our men and women into another conflict," said Roberts, who sponsored the Kosovo amendment. The provision also covers deployment of troops in Albania or Macedonia in connection with the conflict. Both countries are neighbors of Kosovo and could be brought into a full-scale war there.

The defense bill as passed by the House contains no money for keeping U.S. forces in Bosnia, but the Senate on Thursday, without debate, added an "Overseas Contingency Operations Transfer Fund." It does not refer to Bosnia but matches the president's $1.9 billion request for U.S. participation in the NATO operation.

The Senate set aside, on a 69-30 vote, an attempt by Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, and Robert Byrd, R-W.Va., to reduce U.S. forces in Bosnia and neighboring areas from 8,500 to 6,500 by February and 5,000 by October 1999.

It was a demonstration of Senate unwillingness to force the administration's hand in dealing with Bosnia, despite strong criticism of the open-ended operation that Clinton earlier had pledged to end by now.

"This should start the process of working with allies to have a better distribution and sharing of responsibility among our allies and the U.S.," Hutchison said.

Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., said the military, not politicians, should determine what force levels are needed to carry out operations in the field.

The Clinton administration has requested $1.9 billion for the Bosnian deployment for fiscal 1999, the 12-month period that begins Oct.1. Pentagon officials say that without a specific appropriation for Bosnia spending, they will have to use funds that should be available for other possible operations.