WASHINGTON — The Republican-led Senate Armed Services Committee voted 11 to 6 Monday to release funding for the MX missile, and GOP leaders predicted that the full Congress will quickly give President Reagan $1.5 billion to produce 21 more of the controversial weapons.
Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) said he is "confident" that the President's persistent personal lobbying for the missile funding will continue to pay off for the Republicans today when the Senate casts the first of two votes on the issue. The House is expected to approve the MX funding next week.
Dole's optimism, which was shared by many other Republicans, reflected a dramatic turnaround in congressional sentiment on the MX issue during the last few weeks--ever since the President began to argue for the funding on grounds that the missile was needed as a "bargaining chip" in newly reopened arms negotiations with the Soviet Union.
But GOP leaders also acknowledged that they expect the final vote to be very close. According to sources, the Senate Republican leadership's official MX nose count on Monday was evenly divided between proponents and opponents, with 10 to 12 senators still undecided.
In the Senate Armed Services Committee, two Democrats--Sam Nunn of Georgia and John C. Stennis of Mississippi--joined nine Republicans in voting to send the measure to the floor. All six negative votes were cast by Democrats. Two undecided members--Gordon J. Humphrey (R-N.H.) and Alan J. Dixon (D-Ill.)--were absent.
Emerging from the closed-door committee vote, Chairman Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) announced that he was reversing his prediction of several months ago that Congress would kill the MX missile program this year. He said that his earlier statement was designed only to get Reagan's attention.
"I got the word across to the President that he'd better get off his rear end and go to work because he didn't have the votes," Goldwater said. "And, when he heard what I had said, he got off it and started working, and now we have the votes."
As part of his lobbying effort, Reagan was scheduled to make a highly unusual visit to the Capitol today to do some last-minute arm-twisting just before the first vote of the full Senate. He also has been making personal telephone calls to about a dozen senators who are still believed to be undecided on how they will vote on the MX funding.
48 More Missiles Sought
The votes in the Senate and House will determine whether Reagan can spend $1.5 billion that Congress last year refused to release for production of 21 MX missiles during the current fiscal year. But they will not settle the issue for long. Within a few months, Congress will be asked to vote on the President's request to produce an additional 48 of the missiles during the 1986 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
Despite the President's lobbying success for the MX in recent days, even such staunch supporters of the missile as Goldwater say that growing Democratic opposition could prevent production of another 48 missiles in 1986. "I would not bet too much on the MX continuing," Goldwater said.
The committee chairman suggested that most senators who are planning to vote to release the money for production of the missile now are only trying to show support for the President and are not necessarily expressing approval of the missile. "A vote against it would indicate a defeat for the President, and that would be a dangerous thing, not loss of the missile," he said.
Nunn, ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, explained that even though he has decided to cast his vote with the Republicans to release the 1985 MX funding, he still opposes long-term production of the missile and intends to vote to limit production in the future. His view was shared by most other Democrats who will vote for the 1985 funding.
Deployment Plan Assailed
"My vote tomorrow is in no way indicative of a vote by this senator for continued production of MX," Nunn said. "I will say, without any doubt, I will not vote for another 48."
Nunn noted that he also agrees with many Democrats who will vote against MX funding in 1985 on grounds that they disagree with the Administration's plans to deploy the missiles in existing Minuteman missile silos, making them vulnerable to a first strike by the Soviets. As originally conceived, the MX was to be a mobile missile, making it less vulnerable to direct enemy attack.
Speaking for the opponents, Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.) asserted that the MX program would be killed if Congress were debating it strictly on its merits, and he accused the President of agreeing to renewed U.S.-Soviet arms control negotiations simply to convince Congress to approve the MX.
"It is the first time we have gone to the Russians to get a new missile system approved in the United States," he said.