WASHINGTON — Sen. Richard G. Lugar, outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, suggested Sunday that the new Democratic majority in the Senate may have trouble killing aid for the Nicaraguan rebels.
But Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W. Va.), the minority leader who aspires to return to the majority leadership in January, predicted that "continued funding will be difficult."
Lugar, appearing on ABC's "This Week With David Brinkley," conceded that his expected successor, Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.), opposes financing of the guerrillas, known as contras, who, with the help of the Republican-controlled Senate, this year won $100 million in aid from Congress. Lugar suggested, however, that U.S. support for the rebels may continue.
"We're going to have to examine, both as a new majority and a new minority, what our options are," the chairman said. "There's money for the contras to the 30th of September (of 1987). There would have to be movement, it seems to me--and, I would hope, much more of a bipartisan consensus."
Lugar said he regrets the White House's handling of the funding bill, which resulted in passage by the Senate on a party-line vote by the 53 Republicans then in the majority.
"I think we're going to have to listen to voices on both sides and try to get a program that has sustaining power, as opposed to being up for grabs each time we have a vote," Lugar said.
Byrd, interviewed on NBC's "Meet the Press," said Democrats want to explore non-military methods of dealing with the Marxist-led Sandinista government of Nicaragua.
"The Democrats are going to emphasize the use of all the tools," Byrd said, "diplomatic, economic, political as well as military--with diplomatic at the top and military as a last resort. Our objective is certainly not to see American boys fighting in Central America."
Tougher Policy Seen
A Democratic leader in the House, where aid to the contras has encountered strong resistance in the past, forecast a tougher future for Administration policy. Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said on "Meet the Press" that he doubts that the House--with its heavy Democratic majority slightly augmented by last Tuesday's election--will again back the contras' funding.
"It was a very close vote the last time," Gephardt said of the 221-209 House tally last June 25. "My sense would be that given what's happened in the interim that the House will turn back and reinforce its position expressed about eight times in the last five years to not fund the contras."
Gephardt criticized the role of the National Security Council on Nicaragua--highlighted recently by the shooting down of a U.S. supply plane and the capture of an American flier by Nicaraguan troops--and in recently disclosed covert negotiations with Iran. Both episodes, he said, have raised the issue in Congress of placing legal restraints on the NSC's role in foreign policy.
"I think Congress has really got to begin asking, 'Do we want foreign policy run out of the White House?' " the congressman declared. "Congress shares a responsibility for foreign policy with the White House, with the President. And if we don't even know what they're doing and we can't even find out today, then I think we have to look at the laws and see if we don't need changes."