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The post-Sept. 11 patriotic fervor has silenced skepticism on Capitol Hill. One of the few complaints heard last week was that the new budget buys too few warships. (It came mostly from lawmakers from shipbuilding districts.) "The Democrats are terrified to challenge the President on defense," says Lawrence Korb, a Reagan-era Pentagon appointee. Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the Armed Services Committee, expressed only mild concern, noting that the budget "comes without a comprehensive strategy or a detailed guide to that spending."
That sort of muted criticism was the exception; some members want to throw even more money at the Pentagon. Last year the Pentagon abandoned a decade-old benchmark, the ability to fight two major wars at once. The decision made sense, since the Soviets won't be coming through Germany's Fulda Gap any time soon. But on Capitol Hill, New York Representative John McHugh, a Republican member of the Armed Services Committee, says the Pentagon should consider bulking up to wage three wars at once in order to face down the "triangle of terror," a reference to Bush's declaration that Iran, Iraq and North Korea are an "axis of evil." With such talk coming from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, the defense budget seems sure to be going up, up and away, into the wild blue squander.