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House Kills MX Funding, Then Decides to Restore It

October 31, 1985|KAREN TUMULTY | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The House, bowing to a hasty but effective White House lobbying campaign, narrowly approved funds Wednesday for 12 more MX missiles, only two hours after a surprise vote to delete the funds.

The House initially voted 211 to 208 to eliminate $1.7 billion earmarked by its Appropriations Committee for the MX missile.

White House lobbyists promptly warned House members that the vote would embarrass President Reagan three weeks before his summit meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev. The House then voted 214 to 210 to restore the MX funds in fiscal 1986, which began Oct. 1.

The MX funds are part of the Defense Department's annual spending bill, which the House later passed, 359 to 67. The House approved total spending of $292.6 billion, equal to the fiscal 1985 level. Only one day earlier, the House had voted to authorize a maximum spending level of $302.6 billion, enough to let spending grow with inflation.

The Pentagon spending level ultimately approved by Congress will have to be negotiated with the Senate. The Senate Appropriations subcommittee on defense Wednesday approved the full $302.6 billion, including the $1.7 billion for 12 new MX missiles. President Reagan, who originally asked for a 6% after-inflation increase, has said he will accept nothing less than $302.6 billion.

The initial House vote to delete funds for the MX missile reflected anger in the Democratic-controlled House over a Senate-passed plan, endorsed by Reagan, that is designed to balance the budget by 1991 by forcing automatic spending cuts in a wide range of government programs.

The balanced-budget plan was still under negotiation in a House-Senate conference committee and it remained unclear whether its automatic spending cuts would reach to most of the defense budget.

Rep. Beryl Anthony Jr. (D-Ark.) said that the House MX vote represented "a very strong signal that, if they're going to ask us to vote on a very, very strong package to balance the budget, then they're going to have to lay the defense budget out there with every other budget."

'Talking About Dipsy-Doodles'

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who offered the amendment to eliminate the MX funds with little warning, said that the House decision to reverse itself and restore the funds occurred when "the President yelled at a few Republicans . . . . You're talking about . . . dipsy-doodles who don't have the courage to stand up for what they think."

But Rep. Trent Lott of Mississippi, the House's second-ranking Republican, called the initial vote against the MX merely "a fluke."

"That was a weird vote a while ago," Lott said. "Barney caught us distracted." He added that MX supporters reversed it "on a shoestring, right quick."

Two Republicans and one Democrat switched sides to join MX supporters on the second vote. One of them, Rep. Rod Chandler (R-Wash.), said he changed his mind after White House lobbyist M. B. Oglesby "called me and said this would be really damaging to the President at the arms-control talks."

Concern Over Deficit Cited

He said that his first vote had been prompted by concern over the gaping federal deficit. "I just felt we've got to find the money someplace," he said.

Rep. Claude Pepper (D-Fla.), who also switched sides, said he "voted hurriedly" the first time. He said he was persuaded by Rep. Bill Chappell Jr. (D-Fla.), the Appropriations Committee member managing the defense spending bill on the House floor, that such a vote was unwise "on the eve of this summit conference . . . . I thought, all right, I'll give (Reagan) a shot."

MX supporters managed also to find five MX backers who had been absent for the first vote. Other switches affected the final total.

The 10-warhead MX missile, not one of which has yet been deployed, has a long history of setbacks in Congress, where it has become a political symbol of Reagan's arms buildup. Reagan came into office with the goal of eventually deploying 200 missiles but has been forced by Congress to scale his plans back to 50.

Reaching 50-MX Limit

Funds approved in previous years would allow the deployment of 41 missiles, plus spares for testing. The bill approved by the House would allow the program to reach its 50-missile limit and add three missiles for spares.

All California Democrats voted against the funds, except Reps. Glenn M. Anderson of Harbor City, a long-time MX supporter, and Vic Fazio of Sacramento, who saw the amendment to delete the funds as a violation of the agreement to cap MX deployment at 50. Rep. Ed Zschau of Los Altos was the only state Republican voting against it.

Rep. Anthony, who had initially planned to try to restore $163.6 million for nerve gas that the House Appropriations Committee had deleted from Reagan's budget request, abandoned that plan when sentiment against the MX missile proved so strong. The Senate Appropriations subcommittee bill includes the nerve gas funds.

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