The Republican-controlled Senate on Tuesday night defeated a variety of efforts to trim a proposed expenditure of $2.9 billion in fiscal 1986 for President Reagan's so-called "Star Wars" missile defense system.
The votes amounted to a strong endorsement of the controversial space-based defense system--formally known as the Strategic Defense Initiative--and a major legislative victory for the President. It was also a major setback for those who argued that the program should be limited because it violates the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the Soviet Union.
Although the "Star Wars" budget still could be trimmed by the House, the Senate action left untouched the Armed Services Committee's recommendation to spend $2.9 billion for research in 1986--or more than double the $1.4 billion allocated for the current fiscal year.
The Senate voted 57 to 38 against an amendment by Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wis.) that would have trimmed the program's budget to $1.89 billion in 1986; it rejected, 78 to 21, another by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) calling for an expenditure of $1.4 billion. These were the most drastic cuts proposed.
But two less drastic cuts were defeated as well. An expenditure of $2.5 billion proposed by Sen. Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.) fell by a vote of 59 to 36, as did a similar proposal by Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) that would have trimmed it to $2.8 billion.
Also defeated was an amendment proposed by Sen. Malcolm Wallop (R-Wyo.) and other conservatives that would have required that one-third of the money be spent to develop space-based defensive weapons to be deployed within five to seven years. It fell by a vote of 62 to 33.
Opponents of the cuts argued strenuously that such reductions would undermine U.S.-Soviet arms negotiations in Geneva, where the Kremlin has been seeking an agreement strictly limiting the development of space-based defense systems such as that envisioned by Reagan.
"This was the issue that brought the Soviets back to the negotiating table," declared Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.). "To gut the program at this time would simply jerk the chairs from beneath our negotiators."
In addition, Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) charged that supporters of the cuts were "really hostile to the Strategic Defense Initiative," even though they insisted that they were only trying to slow the increase in spending to what they described as a more sensible pace.
But Sen. John H. Chafee (R-R.I.), a co-sponsor of the Proxmire amendment, noted that even some of the staunchest supporters of the "Star Wars" concept already had accepted a $1-billion cut made by the Armed Services Committee in Reagan's original request of $3.9 billion.
"I don't understand how, if the Armed Services Committee makes cuts, it's OK, but if we peasants out here on the Senate floor make cuts, it becomes dangerous," said Chafee, a former secretary of the Navy.
Both Proxmire and Kerry argued that their amendments were designed primarily to cut out any expenditure for research that would violate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the Soviet Union, which one senator described as "the single most important achievement to date in the superpowers' effort to reduce the risk of nuclear conflict."
"The Administration claims that it is carrying out the SDI program in compliance with the ABM treaty, but the fact is that it includes a number of testing and engineering projects that will either directly violate the treaty or render it meaningless," Kerry said.
Warner and other defenders of the "Star Wars" program denied charges that the Administration is risking a violation of the treaty.
Proxmire noted that his amendment would have allowed every aspect of the research program to increase, some by as much as 33% and some by as little as 4%. He said that Congress is unlikely this year to allow defense spending to increase by more than 4%, and that only to offset inflation.
He also cited recent testimony by four former defense secretaries--Clark M. Clifford, James R. Schlesinger, Robert S. McNamara and Elliot L. Richardson--who asserted that the research program could not possibly absorb the massive, 100% increase in funding being proposed in the Senate.
Chafee Challenges Claims
Chafee challenged the Administration's contention that the research program could produce a perfect space-based defense against the Soviet Union's massive arsenal of land-based offensive missiles. Indeed, the likelihood, he said, is that it would produce a less-than-perfect defense that would only encourage Moscow to deploy even more offensive weapons.
"The real danger is that the SDI program could invigorate the already dangerous U.S.-Soviet military rivalry," he said. "When you put up a defense, the natural reaction is a better offense."
Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.), another co-sponsor of the Proxmire amendment, estimated that 90% of Soviet missiles--about 3,500--would still be able to penetrate even the best space-based defensive system, which he estimated would cost at least $1 trillion to develop.
"I'm not sure that I'm willing to put $1 trillion into a system that's going to let 3,500 in," he said.
All of the amendments trimming the "Star Wars" program were being offered as part of a bill that would authorize the Defense Department to spend $302 billion in fiscal 1986. Earlier in the day, the Senate defeated by a vote of 49 to 49 an effort by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) to require defense contractors to pay the prevailing wage rate in their areas. It was a major setback for the 54-year-old prevailing wage law.