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Clinton pledges billions for defense

President Clinton proposed a six-year infusion of $100-billion in new Pentagon spending Saturday, his answer to criticism of the armed forces' readiness to satisfy expanded commitments abroad despite aging weaponry and falling recruitment.

The proposal, which would end 1{ decades of nearly flat defense spending, includes the largest military pay raise since 1982.

From Capitol Hill came immediate cries that Clinton's plan was insufficient to reverse the military's deteriorating readiness.

"Our troops continue to execute complex and dangerous missions far from home with flawless precision, as we've just seen in the Persian Gulf," the president said in his weekly radio address.

"Our challenge is to retain the ability to do this as we carry out our entire defense strategy."

Clinton's proposed $12-billion increase for the next fiscal year would combine $4-billion in new money and $8-billion made available from the Pentagon budget by lower-than-forecast inflation and fuel prices. It would mark the first time since 1991, the year of the Persian Gulf war, that Pentagon spending rose above the level of inflation.

It also would be the largest increase since President Reagan's Cold War buildup of the mid-1980s.

Plotted over six years, the Clinton administration's proposal would commit $100-billion in additional funds to shoring up the Pentagon. The president's Defense Department request for the budget year beginning Oct. 1 would bring total military spending to $268.2-billion, a $10-billion increase over levels earlier planned for that fiscal year, administration officials said.

But Republican Sen. John Warner, incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee who has long been critical of Clinton's treatment of defense spending, noted the military's joint chiefs testified to Congress last fall that they needed sums as high as $17.5-billion per year to repair readiness alone.

Because Clinton's proposed numbers lump in a pay raise and other benefits, Warner said, "It leaves very few funds for readiness and procurement and training expenses." The Virginia Republican plans to convene a hearing Tuesday to assess the military's needs.

For Clinton, the proposal represented a political shift from his presidency's focus on domestic spending. He was responding to complaints by military leaders and Republicans about a deteriorating level of readiness in a military under strain from declining recruitment, aging equipment, expanding anti-terrorism commitments and increasing overseas campaigns from Bosnia to Iraq.