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House Gives Final OK to 21 MXs : Vote Is 217-210 but Request for 48 More May Be in Jeopardy

March 29, 1985|SARA FRITZ | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — President Reagan won the final approval of Congress Thursday for production of 21 additional MX missiles in the current fiscal year, but members of both parties promptly put him on notice that he can expect to get fewer missiles--if any--in fiscal 1986.

The President's victory was sealed by a 217-210 House vote to release $1.5 billion for continued MX production in fiscal 1985. It ended a two-week legislative marathon in which Reagan mounted the most tenacious lobbying drive of his presidency. Each chamber responded by voting twice to release funds for the controversial missile.

Democratic Support

Although the House Democratic leadership firmly opposed MX funding, the President received support from many Democrats who feared that if they voted no they might be accused of undermining the arms control talks with the Soviets in Geneva. The majority was made up of 156 Republicans and 61 Democrats; the minority, 187 Democrats and 23 Republicans.

Reagan, who was traveling in New York City, hailed the outcome as demonstrating America's military resolve to the Soviet Union's arms control negotiators. "This shows again that we are able to stand in a bipartisan way before the world," he said.

After the vote, however, it appeared that the narrow bipartisan majority for Reagan's MX program was quickly disintegrating. Several Democrats and Republicans, all of whom voted for MX funding this year, announced that they will oppose the President's request for 48 missiles in 1986.

Lott Pleads for Cut

House Assistant Republican leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), who voted for the weapon, called on Reagan to abandon the request for 48 missiles and to agree to fewer. "It's obvious at this time that it would be very difficult to get the 48 through," he said. "We do not want this to continue to be an issue that comes up high profile every year."

In addition, Democrats declared that, as a result of the President's victory on the MX, he can expect less support for other aspects of his defense program. "The truth is that the closeness of this vote--given the extent to which the President went to get it--indicates that Congress is no longer in a mood to sign blank checks for Pentagon wish-lists," House Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-Tex.) said.

Less than an hour after the House vote, Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and three other leading Senate Democrats announced a proposal that they hope will be accepted as a compromise. They would deploy no more than 40 MX missiles--less than half the number Reagan wants to deploy. Under their plan, Congress would authorize production of 12 missiles in 1986, but only as "spares."

So far, Congress has approved production of 42 missiles--21 during fiscal 1984 and 21 during fiscal 1985. But none of the missiles are expected to be deployed until late 1986 at the earliest. Ultimately, Reagan wants to manufacture 223 missiles and deploy 100 of them by 1989, using the extras as replacements.

Nunn, whose proposal was co-sponsored by Senate Democratic leader Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia and Sens. Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee and David L. Boren of Oklahoma, said his group agrees with the President that continued MX production is necessary to demonstrate U.S. military might to the Soviets during arms control talks. But he insisted that there is no need for as many missiles as the Administration wants.

Keeping Line Warm

"I would like to keep the production line warm," said Nunn, adding that Congress need appropriate only enough money for about a dozen missiles each year to maintain production. He also estimated that his proposal would save nearly $2 billion during fiscal 1986--money he suggested could be better spent on developing other weapons systems, such as the advanced cruise missile, the Midgetman missile and the Stealth bomber.

Gore asserted that Nunn's proposal has enough bipartisan support in both chambers to turn the tide against MX funding in the future. "I would hope that the Administration would realize that the proposal represents a majority in Congress," he said.

In the House, critics of Reagan's 1986 request for 48 missiles have not presented a formal alternative, but their sentiments were similar to Nunn's. Rep. Vic Fazio (D-Sacramento), who voted for the MX this week, estimated that 20 to 30 Democrats and Republicans in the House--more than enough to change the outcome--want to limit or halt MX production in 1986.

'Cease and Desist'

"We think it's time to cease and desist on MX," he said. "I think it is clear we're talking about a major hiatus here--a halt in production. The votes are there among that group of people to turn this thing around."

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