WASHINGTON — In a heavily partisan vote, the Democratic-controlled House approved a $289.4-billion defense bill Wednesday that would slash spending by 5% in fiscal 1988 and impose a host of arms control restrictions likely to prompt a veto by President Reagan.
The authorization measure was sent to the Senate by a vote of 239 to 178, supported by only 12 Republicans and opposed by only 18 Democrats.
In a blunt challenge to Reagan's powers and priorities, the bill would bar expanded "Star Wars" anti-missile tests, require adherence to the 1979 Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, continue a ban on testing of anti-satellite weapons and require the Administration to accept a one-year moratorium on nuclear weapons tests.
The House also added a rider Wednesday that would prohibit the use of U.S. troops in or over Nicaragua except in certain emergencies. However, reflecting mixed feelings about how much help to give Nicaragua's contra rebels, the House rejected amendments that would have cracked down on U.S. military maneuvers in neighboring Honduras and Costa Rica.
Reagan Threatens Veto
Republicans bitterly protested the bill's arms control restrictions and deep spending cuts--$23 billion below Reagan's overall request and little more than half of what he wanted for his Strategic Defense Initiative, as the "Star Wars" missile defense program is formally known. The President has threatened a veto if changes are not made.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Les Aspin (D-Wis.) warned that Reagan would "have to make some tough choices" in considering a veto because the bill contains "some things he likes," including substantial military construction money and authority to produce a limited number of new chemical weapons.
"Negotiations are what's going to have to happen," Aspin said. "We have to find out what the Senate bill says and what the White House says, so wait a while."
The partisan warfare over defense policy also continued to rage in the Senate Wednesday. Democratic leaders once again failed to break a Republican filibuster aimed at killing restrictions on "Star Wars" tests that are contained in the Senate's defense bill and are similar to those in the House version.
The third vote in five days to halt the filibuster was 59 to 39, falling one shy of the 60 required to invoke the cloture rule limiting debate.
The solidly united Democrats, supported by five breakaway Republicans, had hoped to pick up the vote of Sen. Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.), but a friendly arm draped around his shoulder at the last minute by Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) failed to sway him.
In the aftermath, Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) angrily denounced the GOP blockade of the bill by referring to the deadly Iraqi missile attack on a U.S. Navy frigate in the Persian Gulf.
"We've had men killed. . . . The American people want assurances they will be protected" by funding of military programs that run out of money Sept. 30, when fiscal 1987 ends, Byrd said.
Moynihan, noting that "38 sailors have died" while "we are refusing to take up the defense bill," declared that "they've done their duty. Can we not do ours?"
'Struck Me in the Heart'
In response, Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), a former secretary of the Navy, said that Moynihan's remarks "struck me in the heart. . . . Although the filibuster coincides with the tragedy of the brave sailors, in no way is there a relevance."
Both the House and Senate bills seek to prevent the President from unilaterally beginning "Star Wars" tests in space by implementing a broad interpretation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the Soviet Union. Under the narrow definition now being observed, tests are limited to the laboratory.
The House bill would permit expanded testing only if Reagan moved to have the United States withdraw from the treaty. The Senate measure would require the President to obtain congressional approval of such action.
On major weapons systems, the House bill authorizes:
--$3.1 billion for the "Star Wars" program, $2.7 billion less than requested by Reagan, $1.4 billion less than the Senate proposal and $500 million less than current levels adjusted for inflation.
--$1.3 billion for procurement and testing of 21 MX missiles, plus $250 million for study of a rail-basing system, 58% less than requested.
--$550 million for the B-1B bomber, one-third less than requested. The bill prohibits procurement of spare parts known to have problems and forbids modifications of the bomber without approval by Congress.
--$1.2 billion for the 15th Trident submarine and $3.4 billion for D-5 missiles to be used by the vessels.