President Reagan has angered some of his staunchest supporters in Congress by continuing to press for the deployment of 100 MX missiles even though he agreed last month to a compromise that would cut the program in half, congressional sources said Friday.
Despite recent House and Senate votes slashing the MX program, both Reagan and Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger have said that they still favor deployment of 100 MX missiles. Such statements have caused members of Congress to conclude that the President--in the words of a Senate Republican aide--"has not yet faced up to the reality that the MX missile is dead."
The President's allies are especially concerned that his continued emphasis on the MX will force Republicans to make unnecessary concessions on other weapons systems when a House-Senate conference committee convenes next month to resolve differences over fiscal 1986 military spending, GOP sources said.
GOP Seeks to Resist Pressure
As a result, a number of Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee who fully support Reagan's military buildup--including California Sen. Pete Wilson--are known to be drafting a letter urging committee Chairman Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) to resist White House pressure to make major concessions to negotiate a better MX deal.
In late May, the Republican-controlled Senate voted, 78 to 20, for a bipartisan compromise, agreed to by Reagan, that would limit to 50 the number of MX missiles that the President can deploy in existing Minuteman silos. Last Tuesday, the House followed suit by voting to limit MX deployment to 40.
Although Republican leaders viewed these votes as a permanent solution to the controversy, the President told a news conference Tuesday night that the MX is essential to his strategic modernization program and that "we ought to get on with it." He dismissed the debate in Congress as "a lot of wasted rhetoric."
"We still believe that we should have 100 of them," White House Deputy Press Secretary Robert Sims said Friday. The White House will press for congressional approval of the Senate-passed measure allowing deployment of 50 missiles, he added, and the President will return to Congress in fiscal 1987 for permission to deploy another 50.
Basing Modes to Be Studied
According to Sims, the Administration will conduct a review of the various basing proposals before seeking approval for deployment of the second 50 missiles. But Reagan indicated Tuesday that he still favors deploying them in hardened Minuteman silos--the basing method that has stirred so much opposition in Congress.
Likewise, Weinberger said last Sunday on ABC-TV's "This Week With David Brinkley" that when the Pentagon makes recommendations next November on possible U.S. responses to Soviet arms control treaty violations, "one of our responses would surely be to increase the number of MXs up to the amount originally recommended by the President."
According to sources, Senate Republicans are urging the White House to abandon the strategy outlined by Weinberger on grounds that the President should not propose any response to Soviet violations that would be contingent on congressional approval--especially since Congress has voted so frequently for cuts in the MX program.
What the GOP senators fear most, these sources said, is that House Armed Services Committee Chairman Les Aspin (D-Wis.) will take advantage of the President's desire for MX missiles when House and Senate conferees meet to resolve their differences on defense spending for 1986.
Aspin, an MX supporter, is expected to offer Reagan more MX missiles in exchange for concessions favorable to the Democrats on other weapons systems such as the "Star Wars" space-based missile defense system and the so-called Midgetman missile.
Although Aspin insisted in an interview that the President should not expect congressional approval of more than 40 MX missiles--"he ain't going to get no more"--a knowledgeable Democratic source said Aspin has told his colleagues that he views the MX as an important "bargaining chip" in negotiations with the White House.
In their draft letter to Goldwater, sources said, the GOP senators warned that "too much emphasis" has been placed on the MX by the President and that "too much may have already been sacrificed" as a result of this emphasis.
The letter also notes that the differences between the House and Senate on the MX are minor and that the Republicans should not make major concessions on other weapons systems simply to win approval for deployment of 50 missiles, the sources said.
A Senate Republican aide noted that the Democrats have had some success in pressing for "their own agenda" on such national defense issues as "Star Wars" and Midgetman and added: "The President's concessions with regard to MX are the currency with which the Democrats have been able to do this."