WASHINGTON — Only a week after the House rejected President Reagan's request for renewed aid to Nicaraguan rebels, Democratic leaders agreed Thursday to take up the issue again.
In part to defend themselves against Reagan Administration charges that they have done nothing to put pressure on the leftist Sandinista government, the Democrats said they plan to offer an amendment authorizing humanitarian aid to Nicaraguan refugees when a foreign aid bill is debated on the House floor next week.
"We have a consensus for some kind of assistance--for truly humanitarian aid, not logistical support (for the rebels)," Christopher J. Matthews, a spokesman for House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.), said after a meeting of the Democratic leadership. "That is what we are going to offer next week."
Republicans also plan to offer a new version of their White House-approved bill for aid to the \o7 contras\f7 , which failed last week by only two votes.
The Democratic-led House voted against any aid last week after the Republican-controlled Senate approved a presidential request for $14 million in funding for the contras.
President Reagan and other Administration officials condemned the House action, in unusually strong terms, as a "surrender" to the Soviet Union. And only a few days after the vote, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega flew to Moscow and signed an agreement to strengthen his regime's ties to the Soviets--a development that angered moderate Democrats, who said they believed Ortega had a "moral obligation" to make some conciliatory move toward the United States.
Matthews acknowledged that the Democratic leadership had felt some heat on the issue. "Congress is very sensitive to what is going on" in Nicaragua, he said.
'$14 Million Is Poison'
But he said O'Neill and others are still strongly opposed to the original presidential request, which carried no restrictions on the use of the money. "That $14 million is poison," he said.
At least four alternative proposals are being prepared, congressmen and aides said--all aimed at capturing undecided votes.
The Republican leadership plans to offer a new version of the White House-backed proposal that would provide $14 million in aid to the contras for "non-military" uses.
The Democrats, meanwhile, plan to propose a new version of a bill offered last week providing aid to Nicaraguan refugees through the International Red Cross, as well as funding for the Contadora mediation group led by Mexico, Panama, Colombia and Venezuela. That bill was actually passed in last week's debate before liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans joined forces to vote against any compromise.
In addition, two Democrats, Reps. Dave McCurdy of Oklahoma and Bill Richardson of New Mexico, are working on separate proposals of their own that fall somewhere in between, providing aid to the contras but restricting its use more tightly than the Republican plan.
Meanwhile, the foreign minister of Honduras, Edgardo Paz Barnica, wound up a Washington visit with an appeal to Congress to approve the aid.