Kerry's voting record II: strong on defense

I noticed in Brian's screed today that he bashes Kerry for voting against weapons systems, as if weapons systemas are always unequivocally a good thing, even when the enemy they are designed to fight may no longer exist. As most pro-war advocates are fond of reminding the rest of us, the Cold War is over and it's time for new solutions.

The RNC is the likely source of the bizarre claim that Kerry tried to undercut the military. However, Fred Kaplan takes a look at the facts:

"After completing 20 planes for which we have begun procurement, we will shut down further production of the B-2 bomber. We will cancel the small ICBM program. We will cease production of new warheads for our sea-based ballistic missiles. We will stop all new production of the Peacekeeper [MX] missile. And we will not purchase any more advanced cruise missiles. � The reductions I have approved will save us an additional $50 billion over the next five years. By 1997 we will have cut defense by 30 percent since I took office."

-- President George H.W. Bush, State of the Union Address, Jan. 28 1992

"Overall, since I've been Secretary, we will have taken the five-year defense program down by well over $300 billion. That's the peace dividend. � And now we're adding to that another $50 billion � of so-called peace dividend.

Congress has let me cancel a few programs. But you've squabbled and sometimes bickered and horse-traded and ended up forcing me to spend money on weapons that don't fill a vital need in these times of tight budgets and new requirements. � You've directed me to buy more M-1s, F-14s, and F-16s�all great systems � but we have enough of them."

-- Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee a few days later

As Kaplan points out, the context of these planned cuts was the end of the Cold War. Context is critical in determining how the nation's defense budget needs to be spent. This is an ongoing process - After all, Rumsfeld recently canceled the Crusader tank and the US Army canceled the Comanche Stealth Attack Helicopter for much the same rationale.

And what exactly is Kerry's record? Kaplan does some basic research and finds, unsurprisingly, that the RNC is not exactly being honest:

Looking at the weapons that the RNC says Kerry voted to cut, a good case could be made, certainly at the time, that some of them (the B-2 bomber and President Reagan's "Star Wars" missile-defense program) should have been cut. As for the others (the M-1 tank and the F-14, F-15, and F-16 fighter planes, among others), Kerry didn't really vote to cut them.

The claim about these votes was made in the Republican National Committee "Research Briefing" of Feb. 22. The report lists 13 weapons systems that Kerry voted to cut�the ones cited above, as well as Patriot air-defense missiles, Tomahawk cruise missiles, and AH64 Apache helicopters, among others.

It is instructive, however, to look at the footnotes. Almost all of them cite Kerry's vote on Senate bill S. 3189 (CQ Vote No. 273) on Oct. 15, 1990. Do a Google search, and you will learn that S. 3189 was the Fiscal Year 1991 Defense Appropriations Act, and CQ Vote No. 273 was a vote on the entire bill. There was no vote on those weapons systems specifically.

On a couple of the weapons, the RNC report cites H.R. 5803 and H.R. 2126. Look those up. They turn out to be votes on the House-Senate conference committee reports for the defense appropriations bills in October 1990 (the same year as S. 3189) and September 1995.
At the same time, in 1991, Kerry opposed an amendment to impose an arbitrary 2 percent cut in the military budget. In 1992, he opposed an amendment to cut Pentagon intelligence programs by $1 billion. In 1994, he voted against a motion to cut $30.5 billion from the defense budget over the next five years and to redistribute the money to programs for education and the disabled. That same year, he opposed an amendment to postpone construction of a new aircraft carrier. In 1996, he opposed a motion to cut six F-18 jet fighters from the budget. In 1999, he voted against a motion to terminate the Trident II missile. (Interestingly, the F-18 and Trident II are among the weapons systems that the RNC claims Kerry opposed.)

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