WASHINGTON — The House today ended a bruising congressional marathon and voted 217 to 210 to release $1.5 billion for the production of 21 more MX missiles.
The last of four votes in the Senate and House closed the latest chapter in a decade-long battle over the need for the strategic weapon.
But opponents said President Reagan's first major congressional victory of 1985 also was the high-water mark for the MXs, which critics believe would be destroyed in the first wave of a Soviet nuclear attack.
Reagan said the House vote "shows again that we were able to stand in a bipartisan way before the world as far as our security is concerned."
'Courage and Vision'
From New York, where he had traveled for a speech, Reagan acknowledged the many Democrats who voted for the missile by saying he "will not soon forget those who chose the road of political courage and vision."
Voting for the missile were 156 Republicans and 61 Democrats, while 187 Democrats and 23 Republicans voted against it.
Reagan ultimately wants to install 100 of the 10-warhead missiles in existing underground Minuteman missile silos in Nebraska and Wyoming.
Democratic House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr., who led the unsuccessful campaign against the missile, said Reagan is "going to have a very tough time" winning approval this June for an additional 48 MXs worth $3.2 billion included in the Administration's proposed 1986 budget.
The next time around, Reagan is expected to lose the support of a number of moderate Democrats, including Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia and Rep. Les Aspin of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, who voted for the 21 MXs approved today.
Reagan Timed Vote
Reagan successfully timed the MX debate in the Senate and House to coincide with the opening of the Geneva arms control talks.
In public appearances and in dozens of personal lobbying sessions with senators and House members, Reagan said the success of the arms talks with the Soviet Union hinged on congressional approval for the MX plan.
Reagan also brought Max M. Kampelman, a Democrat and his chief arms negotiator, back from Geneva on Monday for a day of intensive lobbying with wavering House members.
O'Neill said Kampelman's emergency trip persuaded half a dozen Democrats and made the difference in the final vote.
Critics said the U.S. nuclear arsenal already is intimidating enough to force the Soviets to bargain seriously. They said no matter how much accuracy, range or firepower the MXs add, the weapons are still vulnerable to a first-strike attack from the Kremlin's own force of land-based missiles.
Under a congressional decision last fall to delay the MX fight until this spring, the Senate and House were both required to vote twice each on authorization and appropriations measures to free the $1.5 billion included in Reagan's 1985 budget.