Reagan Links U.S. Freedom, Latin Revolts : Presses Congress for Aid to Contras; Democrats Fear War
President Reagan, pressuring Congress as it prepares to vote again on aid for Nicaraguan rebels, contended Wednesday that freedom in the United States is tied to the outcome of Communist revolution in Central America.
In Washington, leading House Democrats replied that the President’s policies would plunge the United States into a full-scale war in Nicaragua.
“We really do stand at a critical juncture,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.) said at a news conference. “The question today really is whether we want to fund a war in Central America.”
Reagan, addressing supporters at a Republican fund-raising luncheon, asserted that it was “a dark day for freedom when, after the Soviet Union spent $500 million to impose communism in Nicaragua, the United States Congress could not support a meager $14 million for freedom fighters in Nicaragua.”
It was the first time Reagan has spoken out substantively in public on the politically touchy subject of Central America since Congress rejected his pleas for aid to the contras in late April, handing him an embarrassing foreign policy defeat on the eve of his trip to Europe for meetings with U.S. allies.
Invasion Plan Denied
But despite the President’s warnings, White House spokesman Larry Speakes branded as “foolish on its face” a New York Times report that the possibility of a U.S. invasion of Nicaragua is being discussed more and more openly within the Administration.
“The President has no plans to use U.S. military forces in Central America--period,” Speakes insisted, calling the published report “incorrect, wrong, inaccurate and dumb.”
Congress now is preparing to vote again on aid for the anti-Sandinista contras, this time on non-military packages.
Both the House and the Senate were forced by procedural snarls to postpone debate on funding. The Republican-controlled Senate, which had been planning to consider the funding Wednesday, is now expected to vote today on a plan that would provide $24 million in humanitarian aid in fiscal 1986 and remove restrictions from the $14 million it has already approved for the remainder of this fiscal year.
In his luncheon remarks, Reagan drew loud applause when he admonished, “We failed them (contras) once. We dare not fail them again.
“History will not wait upon a passive America,” the President said. “Communism has already made its choice. It’s an aggressive, implacable foe of freedom.”
Referring caustically to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, whose journey to the Kremlin after the last congressional vote turned some lawmakers’ sympathies toward the rebels, Reagan said:
“The little dictator who went to Moscow in his green fatigues to receive a bear hug didn’t forsake the doctrine of Lenin when he returned to the West and appeared in a two-piece suit.
“He made the choice long ago,” Reagan said. “Soon the United States Congress must also make a crucial choice for our future--and we’d better hope that this time they choose wisely.”
When the applause died, Reagan added: “We had better hope they remember one simple truth--freedom isn’t free. And if freedom is taken from our neighbors, freedom will be taken from you and me.”
‘Pouring in Weapons’
Reagan declared that “Congress can no longer ignore the obvious: The Soviet Bloc nations and their terrorist allies are pouring in weapons and ammunition to establish a beachhead on our own doorstep. Top defectors from the El Salvadoran guerrillas have given us detailed information about the guidance, the training, the funds and the ammunition that they receive from the Communists in Nicaragua to overthrow the El Salvadoran democratic government.”
Reagan, whose appearance here helped raise $600,000 for the 1986 reelection campaign of Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.), later continued his denunciation of Nicaragua’s Sandinista regime at a fund-raising dinner in Atlanta for Sen. Mack Mattingly (R-Ga.).
The contra aid package up for a vote in the Senate today would provide the funding through the National Security Council. It has bipartisan support and appears certain to pass.
In the House, however, the outlook is not clear. Debate originally was scheduled for today but has been delayed until next Tuesday.
Rival Aid Packages
House Republicans believe they have the votes they need to pass a proposal that would provide $27 million in aid through next March 31. Competing with that plan will be a package, backed by the House Democratic leadership, that would allow only $14 million in humanitarian aid for the remainder of fiscal 1985 and would require that it be distributed through international refugee organizations.
The decision of White House advisers to have Reagan push hard on behalf of the contras may help the Administration in the congressional votes--but it also detracted from the original purpose of the President’s trip: to sell his ambitious new tax-revision plan.
Reagan preached folksy, Populist, anti-tax conservatism to 5,000 workers at an American Telephone & Telegraph Co. high-technology plant here, drawing cheers in a state where anti-Establishment, anti-government messages traditionally are welcomed.
The President told the Oklahomans they are “paying the freight” for “a handful of high-tax states” who “lack resolve” to cut taxes. He was referring to his controversial proposal to eliminate the federal income tax deduction for state and local taxes.
“Some state governments outside Oklahoma have not yet learned to say ‘no’ to special interest groups and higher taxes,” he asserted.
Times Staff Writer Karen Tumulty in Washington contributed to this story.