WASHINGTON — Despite the strain on U.S.-Soviet relations caused by the arrest of the American reporter Nicholas Daniloff, House Democrats pledged Friday to press for final passage of legislation requiring President Reagan to halt nuclear testing and comply with the unratified 1979 strategic arms limitation treaty.
These arms control issues are proving to be the hottest items in meetings of House and Senate members trying to resolve differences between the two chambers on a defense spending bill for fiscal 1987, which begins Oct. 1. The House-passed bill calls for a nuclear test ban and continued compliance with SALT II, the unratified arms treaty; the Senate bill has no binding provisions on either topic.
White House officials have said that Reagan will veto any defense spending bill that includes the arms control measures contained in the House bill.
Many lawmakers fear that the arms control dispute will lead to a House-Senate stalemate on defense spending that will not be settled until Congress approves an omnibus spending package shortly before it adjourns in October.
House Democrats acknowledged that it will be more difficult for them to persuade Senate members to accept the House-passed arms control measure because of the arrest of Daniloff, a correspondent for U.S. News & World Report, in Moscow on Aug. 30 on spy charges.
'A Negative Impact'
"The Daniloff case has a negative impact on the basic relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union, and therefore I think that it hurts us," said Rep. Norman D. Dicks (D-Wash.), a leading arms control advocate.
Many House members were dismayed that the Daniloff case has had a greater impact on congressional sentiment than the Soviet downing of a Korean airliner on Sept. 1, 1983, in which all 269 people aboard were killed, including a U.S. congressman.
"It has got a longer shelf life even though it's less of an outrage," a House GOP aide said.
At the same time, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Les Aspin (D-Wis.) said that House members are determined to press their case for the arms control provisions as enthusiastically as they would have before the Daniloff arrest.
"We are not going to just roll over," he said. "There is no way the Senate cannot deal with these issues.
Dicks said, "We're going to keep making our case."
Packed Conference Committee
Republicans said that the main reason the Daniloff arrest has not deterred the Democrats is that Aspin has been able to pack the conference committee with liberal arms control advocates.
"The Daniloff case has cooled the enthusiasm of the House for these arms control measures," said Rep. Jim Courter (R-N.J.), a conference participant. "But you're never going to cool the enthusiasm of a Markey or a Downey."
This was a reference to Reps. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Thomas J. Downey (D-N.Y.), two of the most liberal House members, who were appointed Thursday to serve on the conference committee. Downey and Markey were among the authors of the test ban proposal.
Courter harshly criticized the House Democratic leadership for appointing these liberal congressmen, who are not members of the Armed Services Committee, to represent the House on arms control matters in negotiations with the Senate.
Even Democrats in the Senate, among them Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia, have complained about the choice of the so-called outside conferees, who were appointed by the House leadership because Democratic members of the Armed Services Committee are viewed as too conservative to defend adequately the arms control initiatives.
Liberal Democrats are expected to press hardest for a House-passed provision that would ban all nuclear tests of more than one kiloton, assuming that the Soviet Union also respects the limit and agrees to on-site monitoring. Dicks predicted that the House and Senate would compromise on a provision limiting nuclear tests to a specified number annually.
Despite the Daniloff case, liberals argued that the case for a test ban provision has been improved by Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev's announcement Aug. 6 that he was extending the existing Soviet test ban, as well as his decision to permit a private group of U.S. scientists to install monitoring equipment on Soviet territory.
In addition, Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.) noted that the test ban provision passed the House by an overwhelming margin of 234 to 155, and that an estimated 170 communities in the country have declared themselves nuclear-free zones.
The liberals' argument for their testing provision is further bolstered by the Senate's 64-35 vote in favor of a non-binding amendment to the defense spending bill urging the President to resume negotiations on a test ban treaty.