The Reagan Administration's request for $1.5 billion to build an additional 21 MX missiles easily passed its first test in Congress on Tuesday, winning the approval of a key subcommittee.
But as the United States moved one small step closer to further production of the huge, 10-warhead nuclear missile, an opponent, Rep. Joseph P. Addabbo (D-N.Y.), vowed to press his fight before the full House.
"It's going to be a floor fight," said Addabbo, chairman of the Appropriations Committee's defense appropriations subcommittee, after he lost the vote, 7 to 4--despite the Democrats' majority on the panel.
Although President Reagan has made the voting this month on the MX one of the first key issues of his second term, there was little drama in the subcommittee meeting room, and the panel spent barely 10 minutes on the issue.
The Administration, conducting an intense lobbying campaign, is arguing that failure to approve the missile production would show a lack of resolve to press ahead with weapons modernization and would give the Soviet Union little incentive as a new round of arms talks began Tuesday in Geneva.
Drawing on this theme, Rep. Joseph M. McDade (R-Pa.) argued that "the place to settle this issue is at the table in Geneva, not at the table in this committee room."
Failure to proceed with production of the missiles, he said, "would be devasting to the purposes of arms control."
But, appearing before another House subcommittee, Soviet defector Arkady Shevchenko said he did not think that congressional approval of the missile would "make or break" the arms talks. Still, he said, the Kremlin would read failure to produce the weapon as a sign of weakness.
"Remember, the leaders of Europe tried to appease Hitler," said Shevchenko, who was undersecretary general of the United Nations when he defected to the United States in 2978. "To try to appease the Soviet leadership would be a big mistake."
The House Appropriations subcommittee vote was the first of several that will be taken in coming weeks on the MX, a 195,000-pound missile that Reagan wants to deploy in silos near Cheyenne, Wyo., as the centerpiece of his program to modernize the nation's land-based nuclear force.
Two Separate Votes
Under a plan approved last spring, the $1.5 billion allocated for the 21 missiles cannot be spent until the House and Senate grant approval in two separate votes. Reagan could not seek that approval until after March 1.
Rep. Les AuCoin (D-Ore.) acknowledged that in the wake of the 1984 presidential election, in which the Democrats lost 49 states, his party needs to show that it is in favor of a strong defense. "But to put a weapon in a vulnerable silo with 10 warheads and state-of-the-art technology--that's not to deter the other side, that's to invite them to take them out" with a nuclear attack, he told reporters after the vote.
After prolonged debate, during which numerous deployment methods were discarded, the Administration decided to place the new missiles in Minuteman missile silos, but the buried tubes will be rebuilt to better withstand a Soviet strike.
In previous budgets, Congress approved production of 20 missiles for initial research ans 21 for actual deployment. Addabbo said the first of the 21 deployable weapons is not expected to be completed until May, 1986.
The Administration hopes to build 100 MXs and has sought approval for 48 in fiscal 1986, which begins Oct. 1.
Signaling his anticipation that Congress will approve Reagan's current request, Addabbo said: "It's important that we keep the pressure on, because we have to face the issue in the 1986 appropriation."