A House of Representatives committee has voted down attempts by Republicans to restore more than $200 million for a planned U.S. missile defense system in Europe. VOA's Dan Robinson reports, a final decision on funding must await House and Senate votes on separate versions of a more than $500 billion defense authorization measure for 2009, and negotiations to resolve differences.
The Bush administration wants to place 10 land-based interceptor missiles in Poland, and a related radar installation in the Czech Republic, as a NATO defense against potential ballistic missile launches on Europe, with a focus on potential Iranian threats.
The plan is controversial, and has increased tensions with Russia, which views the future system as a threat, and has faced opposition from congressional Democrats.
Democrats say their $8.6 billion figure for the Missile Defense Agency, a $720 million reduction, is roughly equal to current year funding, while a $232 million decrease for the European missile program is $100 million above last year's request.
California Democrat Representative Ellen Tauscher, says the Bush administration has not yet met conditions for full funding. "We are hardly slashing what the president has asked for, but things have not changed. We do not have signed agreement with Poland or the Czech Republic, we do not have ratified agreements with their parliaments," he said.
Tauscher also says the administration has not yet provided a review of alternatives,or certified that the system has been acceptably tested for operational effectiveness.
Republicans proposed amendments to restore money for the Missile Defense Agency,including 232 million dollars for the European missile shield program.
Alabama Republican Congressman Terry Everett warned that funding cuts would endanger hoped for agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic, and send a bad message to NATO.
"It frankly sends a wrong message to our allies, risks breaking down [our] negotiations with Poland and negatively affecting the planned June 2008 signing of agreements with the Czech Republic, demonstrates to NATO allies a lack of U.S. Commitment, after NATO gave its endorsement to the U.S. proposal to counter increasing missile threats and continuing collective security," he said.
"Iran right now has ballistic capability to reach a lot of Europe with ballistic missiles and it is developing very rapidly ballistic missile capability to reach all of Europe," said Republican Duncan Hunter.
Republican Doug Lamborn added, "The real point in this debate is even if we wait, Iran will not, and other potential adversaries will watch our commitment to defend."
Democrats argued that the European missile plan should not be rushed. House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt, a Democrat from South Carolina, says the program would divert funds from other U.S. defense needs, and possibly tie the hands of a new president.
"What we need to strike here is a balance, enough of a commitment to the project to let the Poles and Czechs know that we are not backing down on them, that the thing is still there it is still viable, still in the works, yet not so much commitment at this point that the next president, whoever he or she may be, does not have the flexibility to review this commitment," Spratt said.
While the U.S. and the Czech Republic are headed toward a hoped for signing in June, negotiations with Poland have been more problematic.
Wednesday's House committee votes contrast with the Senate Armed Services committee,which voted earlier this month to fully fund President Bush's request, while imposing conditions, including approval by the Polish and Czech parliaments
Senate and House votes on their versions of defense authorization legislation are not likely until June, and any differences will have to be worked out in negotiations.
Both chambers will also have to vote on separate defense appropriations bills. Lawmakers also approved cuts in various other Missile Defense Agency programs, added money for some others, and provided $10 million for a joint U.S.-Israel short-range anti-ballistic missile program.