With unusual lobbying help from chief U.S. arms control negotiator Max M. Kampelman, President Reagan climaxed his hard-sell campaign for continued production of the MX missile Monday by declaring that today's House vote could make "the difference between success and defeat" in his quest for arms control.
Just hours before Kampelman was due to return to Geneva to resume talks with Soviet negotiators, he joined Reagan in the East Room of the White House for a last-minute lobbying session with about 150 House members. Secretary of State George P. Shultz and national security adviser Robert C. McFarlane also were there to work the crowd.
Kampelman had been recalled to Washington during the weekend to bolster the President's argument that the Soviets will have much less incentive to seek an arms reduction pact if Congress does not vote to release $1.5 billion for production of an additional 21 MX missiles.
Making his case in stark terms, the President portrayed the House vote today on the authorization as a key ingredient in his formula for arms control. As he put it: "Tomorrow's vote in the House could very well spell the difference between success and defeat in our arms control efforts."
Close Vote Predicted
Both House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) and White House spokesman Larry Speakes predicted that the House vote will be "very, very close," with an estimated five to 10 members still undecided. Among the known fence-sitters is California Rep. Mervyn M. Dymally (D-Compton).
"It's going to be a question of whether momentum is with us at the appointed hour," said an aide to the House GOP leadership. The aide predicted that the decision could hinge on which House members are absent today.
Although the House will cast a second MX vote--to appropriate the funds--on Thursday, a negative vote today would effectively kill funding for the MX missile during the current fiscal year, even though the Senate twice voted 55 to 45 last week to release the money.
Although the momentum appears to be in Reagan's favor, O'Neill reported that the President was still "turning out all of the stops" by telephoning members of the House, inviting them to the White House and arranging for them to meet with Kampelman.
Briefing on Talks
Critics of the President suggested that recalling the arms negotiator for lobbying purposes was improper. But Kampelman insisted that he had returned to Washington mainly to brief the President and members of Congress on the current arms control talks, not to lobby.
Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) said Kampelman's presence here indicated that the MX is more important to Reagan than arms control. "Our chief arms control negotiator may miss the talks to lobby for more missiles--that says it all," he said.
Kampelman spent much of the day on Capitol Hill in private meetings with a variety of Congress members, including O'Neill, House Republican leader Robert H. Michel of Illinois and Rep. Trent Lott (R-Miss.).
A longtime Democrat, Kampelman appeared to be making a special pitch to members of his own party by emphasizing the virtues of unity in foreign policy matters.
"I operate on the assumption that we have only one President at a time and, when he is President, he is my President and he is your President," he said at the White House. "I think it is essential that we do what we can to communicate to the world and, particularly, to the other negotiating partner that he speaks for a united country."
Cites Soviet 'Advantage'
He insisted that the United States must demand payment for every concession that it makes in talks with the Soviets. "If history is any guide," he said, "we can be sure the Soviets are not going to simply give up their tremendous advantage in MX-type missiles without some incentive. Without the MX, that incentive is lacking."
Opponents countered that the Kremlin has no reason to be afraid of the MX missile because the President has chosen to deploy it in fixed silos, making it vulnerable to Soviet attack.
"Are the Soviets going to get upset by the American people spending money they don't have for a missile they don't need and putting it in silos that are vulnerable?" asked Rep. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) during debate on the House floor. "We're stronger than the Soviets; we don't need it."
O'Neill said that adding to the deficit to finance the MX would be the worst mistake since the nation decided to wage war in Vietnam without paying for it. "As in the case of Vietnam," he said, "we are being asked to spend billions of dollars on a murky military mission."