No. 2 Senate Republican Simpson takes aim at military budget
Sen. Alan K. Simpson of Wyoming, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, recently took verbal swipes at defense spending while calling for two-year budget trims that ranged from limiting social security benefits to cutting pay for members of Congress. The new deputy majority leader told reporters at breakfast Wednesday that Senate Republicans are considering a $20 billion cut in defense spending next year. That total would be in addition to the $8 billion reduction that Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger has offered and which some lawmakers have discounted as little more than a bookkeeping change.
Senator Simpson, who has backed virtually every major weapons system in recent votes, said that Congress will have to eliminate some defense programs.
Although he refused to name any system as a target, he pointed out that Congress has canceled big projects in the past, such as the Clinch River Breeder Reactor.
He listed the MX missile, which has broad support in Wyoming where it is to be based, as vulnerable in both houses. See related story Page 1.
Secretary Weinberger has already obtained ``126 billion bucks worth of stuff'' on what was a wish list of some 15 major defense items, according to Simpson. ``He got every single one of them on the list,'' the senator said. ``So how can he say he got cut $38 billion or whatever? It won't wash, except in the arcane and diluvian mysteries of the swamp.''
Despite Simpson's staunch support for the military buildup in the past, an aide explained that the senator is undergoing some changes as a part of the ``educational process'' of becoming assistant majority leader, beginning this month.
``For the first time, he's in a position to know a lot more about defense systems,'' press assistant Mary Kay Hill said.
The deputy majority leader said he expected little aid from the White House on budget cutting. ``We're not pouting,'' said Simpson about the President's low profile. He predicted President Reagan would sign legislation to freeze social security cost-of-living adjuments (COLAs) and reduce defense.
He said, however, that Mr. Reagan's opposition to tax hikes is irrevocable. The word from the White House, he said, is that the veto gun is ``loaded'' on tax increases, Simpson said.
Although he conceded that touching social security is as sticky as a ``gumball,'' Simpson argued that voters ``know you can't do it [cut the federal deficit] unless you touch social security and defense.'' He said budget cuts should be put into law for two years and suggested a possible one-year freeze on benefits and a reduced COLA later.
``That's where the money is,'' he said of the COLA for federal benefit programs, adding that Congress could protect the 10 to 12 percent of the elderly who rely heavily on social security.
``How did we get to the point in America where somehow everybody over 65 is eating out of a garbage can?'' asked the Republican. Lawmakers could take their share the pain by accepting a 10 percent pay decrease, said the senator.
Simpson also held out hope for reviving the immigration bill that died in the last Congress after nearly winning passage. He said the legislation, which he co-sponsored with Rep. Romano L. Mazzoli (D) of Kentucky, will have many of the same features including sanctions against employers who hire illegal workers. But Simpson proposed that legalization for residents now living here illegally should be delayed until the sanctions are in place.