Trial balloons are used from time to time to help shape U.S. defense policy. Some balloons soar and win acceptance. Others pop soon after they are launched. Once in a while a trial balloon escapes its handler before being tied properly. It has a brief, uncontrolled flight that sounds like a Bronx cheer. And that just about captures how the Defense Department this spring decided to revisit the touchy issue of military people on food stamps.
While taking a late lunch in his third-floor Pentagon office on 18 April 2000, Secretary of Defense William Cohen decided to watch a closed-circuit television channel showing his spokesman, Ken Bacon, sparring with reporters at his regular Tuesday news briefing. When the topic turned to military people on food stamps, Cohen's casual interest in the give-and-take deepened into real concern.