THE PENTAGON . . . HELP! WE NEED SOME MONEY

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U.S. military readiness will continue to erode seriously, unless Congress provides a quick $2.6 billion emergency cash infusion, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. John Shalikashvili told lawmakers today. Pre-empting President Clinton's formal request for the money next month as part of his 1996 budget, the nationŐs top general painted a picture far worse than he did last fall, when costs from overseas deployments to Haiti and the Persian Gulf led to canceled training and sagging readiness in three of the Army's 12 divisions. Shalikashvili warned that if the new money doesn't arrive by Mar. 31, the Pentagon will be forced to take "drastic steps": all 10 remaining active-duty Army divisions would lose their top readiness ratings, and the Air Force, Navy and Marines would drastically cut flying time and training exercises. Some worried House Approriations subcommittee members reportedly dashed off to lobby House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who said, "I'm a hawk, but I'm a cheap hawk.Ó