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71. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • President Gerald R. Ford
  • Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense
  • Senator John L. McClellan, Arkansas
  • Senator John C. Stennis, Mississippi
  • Senator Strom Thurmond, South Carolina
  • Senator Milton R.Young, North Dakota
  • Brent Scowcroft, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

[The following are not complete notes.]

The President: I submitted the largest defense budget in history. We have to reverse the trend of the past several years.

[There is extended discussion of the need for a bigger defense budget.]

I know you agree with me. What we have to do is convince the Congress that this is an essential program. Don, what do you think?

Rumsfeld: I think the American people will not accept anything less than rough equivalence. We can’t just keep riding from one year to the next, cutting $5–8 billion from defense.

The President: I think the mood around the country is changing. I know we have a new difficult procedure in the Congress with the Budget Committees. Once the budget resolution has been accepted, it will be hard for you all to change it.

I know you are all concerned about my shipbuilding program. We have had a program under way for a couple of years, but in the light of Soviet programs, I have asked Don for a new study. If we need more, I will ask for more.

McClellan: The stumbling block is the Budget Committee. I don’t know if you will have them down here. They are the problem.

The President: I will have the House Armed Services Committee and House Appropriations Committee this afternoon2 and I will get to the Budget Committees also.

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McClellan: Good. You will be okay with our committees, but the Budget Committee is leaning to make cuts. Our report from the Budget Subcommittees is the tentative recommendation and will run $16 billion over the Budget—HUD, 550 million and Agriculture 500 million, etc.

The President: How about foreign aid?

McClellan: It seems that defense and military procurements are at budget levels. That is how it is running now. My inclination is to cut a couple of billion off the defense budget, but with the Budget Committees increasing everything else and holding DOD, I don’t like it.

The President: I am glad to hear it.

Stennis: The manpower and procurement is the part which comes to me and I think it is at rock bottom. Revenue things like stockpile sales should be taken out—they just confuse things. If you are going to recommend more shipbuilding, you should do it as soon as possible.

The President: I want to be able to justify anything I send up.

Rumsfeld: I think your Committees, who are the experts, can be so helpful with the budget cuts.

Young: I heard George Brown. There is sentiment that the B–1 is not as important as other things, that we can do with the B–52.

The President: We have got to disabuse them of that.

Rumsfeld: In the past, the different services and different contractors have hit at each other’s procurement. That must stop.

Thurmond: The Budget Committees are the key.

Stennis: You can go over the heads of the Congress to the people on this.

Thurmond: How about going on nationwide television? Do it right away, so the pressure gets back to the Congress.

I think the defense budget should be maintained and even increased.

Stennis: Where will the cuts come in the DOD budget?

The President: In the House, Mahon has recommended cuts of $900 million. I don’t recall where.

Rumsfeld: They have, though, taken out the restraints on things like commissaries, so the cut in fighting capability is even worse.

AWACS was cut from six to three; they held intelligence to current levels; likewise CCC.

We can’t keep cutting investment and adding to the people part of the budget.

McClellan: Why should retirement come in the defense budget?

Stennis: Retired pay needs attention, but I wouldn’t take it on this year.

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Thurmond: You should get all the committees down here.

McClellan: You won’t be able to turn Muskie. You will have to outvote him.

[There is a discussion of general issues.]

The President: I will meet with the Budget Committees.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, Box 18, March 2, 1976—Ford, Rumsfeld, Senators re Defense Budget. No classification marking. The meeting was held in the Oval Office. All brackets are in the original.
  2. Ford discussed defense appropriations with a bipartisan group of House members from 1:35 to 2:15 p.m. on March 2. The memorandum of conversation is ibid., March 2, 1976—Ford, Rumsfeld, Representatives re Defense Budget.