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Rumsfeld, House panel spar on defense budget

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The chairman of a House appropriations subcommittee and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld danced around cooperation between the executive and legislative branches of government Thursday, but both agreed such cooperation will be necessary to complete their work on the department's 2003 budget proposal.

"It concerns me that some executive branch officials have recently been making suggestions that congressional initiatives and specific recommendations for funding and appropriations bills are unwarranted intrusions in the budget process," said House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Lewis, R-California.

Lewis said members of his committee are "dead serious" about national defense and have had significant input into the budget process in the past.

Testifying before the subcommittee in support of the department's $379 billion budget proposal, Rumsfeld acknowledged "a legacy of past distrust between the department and Congress," but said sometimes Congress appears not to consider the larger picture in making its proposals.

"I don't doubt for a minute that the executive branch has done things over time that caused legitimate concerns in Congress which they then responded to by putting out restrictions on the department's ability to manage its affairs," the secretary said. That "probably could have caused some additional inefficiencies or problems, which then led to additional distrust ... and then additional restrictions, reports, and requirements."

Rumsfeld told Lewis that "at some point, I think we need to break that cycle."

"With the nation challenged by new threats in the war on terrorism, it probably is as good a time as any," he said. "We need to work together to rebuild the trust between Congress and the department."

Despite the careful sparring, the defense subcommittee was largely behind the defense budget, which represents a "much needed" $48 billion increase over 2002, Lewis said.

Rumsfeld lauded his department for developing and adopting a new defense strategy in only a year's time, scrapping "the decade-old, two-major-theater war construct for sizing our forces" and instituting an "approach which is more appropriate to the 21st century."

The complete transformation of the military, Rumsfeld said, would be a careful and slow process that would keep it adaptable to the fast-changing global climate.




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