WASHINGTON — As President Reagan and the Democratic-controlled Senate headed for a showdown over Persian Gulf policy, Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) on Wednesday bitterly accused the White House of pretending to be "omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent" when it put U.S. troops into a war zone without consulting Congress.
Byrd's ire was raised over remarks by Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger, who recently dismissed as "the height of absurdity" a measure co-authored by Byrd and Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) that would force a congressional vote within 90 days on Reagan's policy of providing U.S. Navy escorts for re-registered Kuwaiti oil tankers traveling through the gulf under the U.S. flag.
"He must think the Administration is God," Byrd said, referring to Weinberger. " . . . This Administration thinks it's omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. It knows everything. It can do anything. It doesn't have to answer to anybody. . . . We continue to get the back of the hand from the Administration."
He added that the Administration frequently "gets a bit in its teeth and is determined to go hog wild" on foreign policy matters.
The Byrd-Nunn measure has become the focus of a rapidly escalating constitutional battle over the question of whether the President must seek the consent of Congress to continue his controversial escort policy. According to the measure, Reagan would have to end the escorting and reflagging operation within 90 days unless Congress were to vote otherwise.
Byrd, faced with a Republican filibuster, also served notice Wednesday that he will seek a vote to cut off debate later this week. But Republicans were skeptical that he could muster the three-fifths majority necessary to end the filibuster and to move to a vote on the measure itself, which can be adopted by a simple majority.
May Move to Cut Funds
Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) responded by announcing that he will seek a vote later this week to cut off debate on the $303-billion defense spending bill for fiscal 1988, which would effectively end the Persian Gulf debate. The Byrd-Nunn measure has been offered as an amendment to the defense bill.
Byrd tried Wednesday to count his support on the issue with a vote to table the measure. But Republicans undermined the effort by voting with him. Thus, the Senate cast a meaningless 99-1 vote that Sen. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. (R-Conn.) likened to "wandering around in a fog of parliamentary maneuvers."
A supporter of the Byrd-Nunn measure, Weicker told reporters that a true test vote would have shown that only a slim majority favors the legislation.
"There are many Democrats out there who do not want to challenge the President," he added.
The controversial Byrd-Nunn measure was offered by the Democrats after the President flatly refused last week to comply with the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which requires him to report to Congress within 48 hours after U.S. troops face hostile action. Reagan argued that the War Powers Resolution does not apply to the situation in the gulf.
Enacted in the Vietnam era over the objections of President Richard M. Nixon, the War Powers Resolution would require a troop pullout no later than 90 days after U.S. servicemen meet with "imminent hostilities" unless Congress votes to extend the operation. No President has ever willingly obeyed the resolution.
Weicker argued that the Senate must either approve the Byrd-Nunn measure or invoke the War Powers Resolution because it is required by law; any other action would amount to an abdication of the body's constitutional role.
"If 100 men and women in this body refuse to obey the law, then I suppose there is nothing wrong with an Ollie North or a Bernhard Goetz," he said. "You can't just say the law applies but I don't like the law."