The Senate on Wednesday reaffirmed its support for production of 21 more MX missiles, and the battle promptly shifted to the House, where Democrats conceded that President Reagan's personal lobbying could prove as "awesome as the power of the weapon itself."
In the House, which will vote on the MX next week, the measure appeared to be moving toward final approval. The House Armed Services Committee voted 37 to 8 to report it to the floor, and Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) acknowledged that Reagan had persuaded many members that the weapon is needed, at least as a bargaining chip in U.S.-Soviet arms control talks.
"The power and popularity of the President is awesome," said O'Neill. "Make no mistake about it, it's as awesome as the power of the weapon itself."
Setback on MX
The only bad news for the President came when the House Appropriations Committee voted 28 to 26 to report the MX funding measure to the House floor with an unfavorable recommendation. But White House spokesman Larry Speakes dismissed the vote as an aberration, saying, "We do not think it will affect the floor action."
For the second time in two days, the Senate voted 55 to 45 to free $1.5 billion for continued production of the MX in the current fiscal year. According to Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), it was the 30th time the Congress had voted on the controversial missile in the last 11 years.
Two votes are required in each house: one to authorize the funds and one to appropriate them. In the Senate on Wednesday, all senators voted the same way on the appropriation as they had the day before on the authorization.
Already, the personal lobbying by Reagan that was credited with his victory in the Senate appeared to be paying off in the House also. Rep. Roy Dyson (D-Md.), who consistently has voted against the MX in the past, switched to the affirmative in the vote by the Armed Services Committee.
Credits Visits to Reagan
Dyson said that his mind was changed during three personal visits with Reagan at the White House, the last of them on Tuesday. He said he was persuaded by the President's contention that the MX is needed as a bargaining chip in arms talks now under way with the Soviet Union.
He explained: "What I told the President yesterday is this--'I never thought a Ronald Reagan would go to the arms control table. For whatever reason, you are doing it, and I want to do whatever I can to encourage it.' "
According to Dyson, the President promised that he would never use the MX for a first strike on the Soviet Union. "When Ronald Reagan leaves the White House, I think he wants to be known as a peacemaker," Dyson said.
But Rep. Norman Sisisky (D-Va.), who met with the President along with Dyson, said that Reagan's powers of persuasion did not work on him. "When you have a willing buyer--and I was a willing buyer--and you can't make a sale, something is wrong," said Sisisky, who voted "no" in the Armed Services Committee.
Supporter Changes Mind
Likewise, the anti-MX lobby claimed a victory when Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), previously an MX supporter, opposed it when the House Appropriations Committee voted. "I feel I just joined the winning side," he later told reporters.
According to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Les Aspin (D-Wis.), there are about 30 House members still undecided--enough to determine the outcome of the MX vote. O'Neill lamented that Reagan will have a full weekend during which to work on the fence-sitters before the House votes next week.
Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), an MX opposition leader in the House, predicted that the votes there will be "real close," with the outcome decided by as few as five or six votes.
Other opponents were less optimistic about defeating the President. "This whole thing is a hype," said Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.). "The votes are in the bag." And Rep. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) added: "It's likely to win now."
Rep. Aspin Blamed
Democratic MX opponents blamed Aspin for betraying them by supporting the continued production of the missile after promising them last year that he would vote against it in 1985.
Their anger erupted in a closed meeting of the House Democratic Caucus, where they called Aspin to task for what Rep. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts termed as "two-stepping us." Markey predicted that Aspin would be under "continuing fire" from his Democratic colleagues for his decision to support MX.
Aspin said that, although he supports the production of an additional 21 missiles in the current fiscal year, he will not go along with Reagan's request for 48 more in the 1986 fiscal year, beginning next Oct. 1.