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16 Senators Vow Filibuster Over Aid to Contras

July 16, 1986|SARA FRITZ | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A group of 16 senators pledged Tuesday to stage a filibuster later this month to block passage of $100 million in aid for the Nicaraguan rebels, according to Sen. Alan Cranston.

The California Democrat said that the senators--including Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), Jim Sasser (D-Tenn.), Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.)--agreed on the filibuster strategy during a meeting in his office. He declined to identify other members of the group but said that Republicans are included.

He predicted that the Administration and the Senate Republican leadership will be hard-pressed to muster the necessary 60 votes to break a filibuster.

Ban on Stinger Missiles

Meanwhile, a spokesman said that Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) is likely to offer an amendment that would prohibit President Reagan from supplying the Nicaraguan rebels, known as contras, with Stinger anti-aircraft missiles.

According to Senate sources, Administration officials are reconsidering a commitment made by the President to Senate members earlier this year that he would not supply the contras with Stingers. The compact, shoulder-fired weapons were included in the package when Reagan originally proposed it earlier this year.

Although the Senate voted 53-47 for the aid package on March 27, it now must be reconsidered by the Senate after it passed the House in a somewhat different form. The contras have not received any U.S. military assistance since early 1984, when members of Congress cut off the money after learning that CIA operatives had helped to mine a Nicaraguan harbor. Last year, Congress approved $27 million in non-weapons assistance.

The measure sought by Reagan would provide $100 million in direct assistance to the contras, $70-million of it for combat equipment. It also would lift an existing ban on the use of CIA contingency funds to support the contras.

Cranston predicted that Reagan's request for the $100 million in direct aid is only a small part of what the Administration intends to spend if the measure is approved. He said that the bill would permit the expenditure of unlimited CIA and Defense Department funds.

The measure would repeal existing restrictions on the CIA's and Defense Department's use of so-called discretionary funds to help the contras, although Reagan has said publicly that he would not go beyond the $100-million appropriation.

'Closer to $1 Billion'

"The price tag will be closer to $1 billion than $100 million a year," Cranston said. "This is a different thing we're voting on this time. We're talking about a major undeclared war in this hemisphere."

On Monday, Cranston called on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to look into reports that the Administration has decided to put the CIA in charge of running the contras campaign against the Marxist-led Nicaraguan regime.

"This could be a rerun of Vietnam: first American money, then American advisers, then American control of the war, then American troops," he said.

Lugar's Expectation

Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he expects the contras aid measure to come to the Senate floor shortly before the end of the month. As it was in the House, it will be attached to a military construction bill.

Lugar said that Sen. Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.), an opponent of contras aid and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which is reviewing the contras assistance package, has promised the President that he will not block the measure from coming to the Senate floor.

In addition, Lugar said, Reagan's supporters will do their best to keep the Senate from making any changes in the House-passed measure. If the bill is changed in any way, the differences then must be resolved by a House-Senate conference committee--further delaying the funding of the contras.

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