Senate OKs Defense Bill, Backs SALT II
The Senate on Wednesday night passed a $232-billion defense spending bill for fiscal 1986 that calls on President Reagan to continue to abide by the unratified SALT II treaty if the Soviet Union does likewise.
The defense measure passed by a vote of 92 to 3, ending nearly three weeks of sporadic deliberations in which the Senate settled on spending levels for such controversial weapons systems as the MX missile, the so-called “Star Wars” space-based defense program and anti-satellite weapons.
Passage of the bill came swiftly after Republicans and Democrats agreed on a compromise provision expressing the sentiment of the Senate on the issue of compliance with the 1979 SALT II agreement--which, paradoxically, has never been ratified by the Senate. The compromise, accepted by a vote of 90 to 5, stated:
“The United States should, through Dec. 31, 1986, continue to refrain from undercutting the provisions of existing strategic offensive arms agreements to the extent that the Soviet Union refrains from undercutting those provisions, or until a new strategic offensive arms agreement is concluded.”
The resolution comes at a time when the President is trying to decide whether to continue to comply with the treaty, despite charges of Soviet violations. Reagan has promised to report his decision to Congress next Monday.
Specifically, he must decide whether to dismantle some nuclear weaponry before a new Trident submarine is launched next fall, placing the United States in violation of the SALT agreement.
The compromise language was drafted during a full day of behind-the-scenes negotiations after Republican conservatives threatened to stage a filibuster against an amendment proposed by Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.) that would have given the President less leeway in deciding his course of action. Bumpers argued in favor of his amendment on grounds that SALT II compliance puts stricter limits on the Soviet Union than it does on the United States.
Although liberals hailed the compromise as a victory, Bumpers acknowledged that it does not rule out any alternative course of action currently under consideration at the White House. “The SALT treaty and this amendment do not keep us from doing one thing that we intend to do,” he said.
Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) said he decided to support the compromise because it was “mealy-mouthed” on the issue of compliance. But he added, “We are putting the Soviet Union on notice that there will be a cost for their non-compliance.”
He said that he and other conservatives were persuaded to vote for it when Bumpers agreed to language allowing the President to take “proportionate responses” to Soviet violations.
Conservatives also were swayed by compromise provisions that call on the President to propose countermeasures if he determines that Soviet violations are threatening U.S. security, state explicitly that the Senate does not “endorse unilateral U.S. compliance with existing strategic arms agreement” and say that compliance with SALT II does not restrict U.S. development of the Midgetman missile.
These changes appeared to satisfy senators at both ends of the political spectrum. The threatened filibuster was canceled.