There he goes again.
Yesterday, President Bush told a crowd of supporters in Houston that, back in 1995, two years after the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, Sen. John Kerry introduced legislation to cut the intelligence budget by $1.5 billion. "Once again, Sen. Kerry is trying to have it both ways," the president said. "He's for good intelligence; yet he was willing to gut the intelligence services. And that is no way to lead a nation in a time of war." Bush further charged that Kerry's bill was "so deeply irresponsible that he didn't have a single-co-sponsor in the United States Senate."
Bush and his operatives are making a practice of mischaracterizing the voting record of the presumptive Democratic nominee. Two weeks ago, the Republican National Committee put out a "Research Brief" that flagrantly distorted Kerry's votes on weapons systems. (Click here for the real facts.) Bush's remarks yesterday are more dishonest still.
One thing is true: Kerry did introduce a bill on Sept. 29, 1995—S. 1290—that, among many other things, would have cut the intelligence budget by $300 million per year over a five-year period, or $1.5 billion in all.
But let's look at that bill more closely.
First, would such a reduction have "gutted" the intelligence services? Intelligence budgets are classified, but private budget sleuths have estimated that the 1995 budget totaled about $28 billion. Thus, taking out $300 million would have meant a reduction of about 1 percent. This is not a gutting.
Second, and more to the point, Kerry's proposal would have not have cut a single intelligence program.
On the same day that Kerry's bill was read on the Senate floor, two of his colleagues—Democrat Bob Kerrey and Republican Arlen Specter—introduced a similar measure. Their bill would have cut the budget of the National Reconnaissance Office, the division of the U.S. intelligence community in charge of spy satellites.
According to that day's Congressional Record, Specter said he was offering an amendment "to address concerns about financial practices and management" at the NRO. Specifically, "the NRO has accumulated more than $1 billion in unspent funds without informing the Pentagon, CIA, or Congress." He called this accumulation "one more example of how intelligence agencies sometimes use their secret status to avoid accountability."
The Kerrey-Specter bill proposed to cut the NRO's budget "to reflect the availability of funds … that have accumulated in the carry-forward accounts" from previous years. Another co-sponsor of the bill, Sen. Richard Bryan, D–Nev., noted that these "carry-forward accounts" amounted to "more than $1.5 billion."