Key Senate committee delays decision on Crusader
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate Armed Services Committee has delayed a decision on whether to cancel the $11 billion Crusader artillery system, saying it first wants Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to explain why he wants to cut the program.
Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Michigan, said Friday that Rumsfeld put the committee in an "awkward" position by announcing his recommendation while the committee was working on the Defense bill.
Levin announced the details of the $393.4 billion defense bill approved by the committee Thursday night. He said the committee included the administration's original $475.6 million request for the Crusader because it did not have time to review the impact that cutting the Crusader would have Army modernization.
Levin said the committee wants to hear Rumsfeld's reasons for eliminating the Crusader during a hearing scheduled for next Thursday. The hearing also is to include witnesses who support the artillery system.
Rumsfeld says the Crusader does not fit with the direction the Army is taking to modernize.
"We want to hear both sides," said Levin, "this is obviously a U-turn for the secretary of defense."
After next week's hearing, committee members will decide whether to go along with Rumsfeld. If they agree the Crusader should be canceled, they will pass an amendment authorizing its elimination. The full Senate would then take up the measure.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, chairman of the subcommittee governing the Crusader program, said Rumsfeld should be given "credit for making making this decision," saying it deserves the committee's "respect."
The Crusader project has some powerful and staunch supporters in the Senate, including Assistant Minority Leader Don Nickles and Sen. James Inhofe, both Oklahoma Republicans.
The House Thursday night approved its version of the Defense bill that includes funding for the artillery system.
Also noteworthy in the Defense authorization bill is a $812 million decrease in funding for ballistic missile defense.
Levin said reductions were made in missile defense areas that were "duplicative, premature or had execution problems."
A portion of that money was reallocated to build three additional ships: a submarine, a missile destroyer and a transport ship.
"In a time of war, I believe we must be careful in how we dedicate out limited resources. Every dollar spent on missile defense is one less dollar used for the operational readiness of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines and protecting our borders and harbors." said Sen. Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island.
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