‘Pork Barrel’ Bill Reagan Opposes Tied to Contra Aid
President Reagan lost a key vote Tuesday when the House agreed to consider his request for $100 million in aid to the Nicaraguan rebels as part of a $1.7-billion “pork barrel” spending bill that the President is threatening to veto.
By a 221-202 vote, the Democratic-controlled House defeated an effort led by Reagan’s Republican supporters to consider aid to the rebels, known as contras, as a separate measure. It then quickly voted 212 to 208 in favor of the procedure under which the contra aid issue will be debated today.
The defeat means that Reagan could eventually be faced with a choice of accepting the supplemental spending bill that he opposes or vetoing a measure that would enable him to carry out his policy in Central America. White House spokesman Larry Speakes described this as being “given the shaft” by opponents of the contra policy in Congress.
“What you’re saying to Mr. Reagan is: ‘If you want the $100 million, it’s going to cost you $1.7 billion,’ ” Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) told the Democrats.
Earlier in the day, the President had tried to persuade the House to consider contra aid separately by trying to link the Marxist-led government in Nicaragua to Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi.
“I would remind the House voting this week that this arch-terrorist has sent $400 million and an arsenal of weapons and advisers into Nicaragua to bring his war home to the United States,” Reagan said. “He has bragged that he is helping the Nicaraguans because they fight America on its own ground.”
The procedure adopted Tuesday makes it easier for the House to approve a restrictive, alternative contra aid proposal sponsored by Rep. Dave McCurdy (D-Okla.), rather than the Senate-passed measure supported by the President.
House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O’Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) decided to consider the contra aid along with the supplemental spending bill several weeks ago, when it became apparent that the House might otherwise approve the Senate bill.
“We’re making a mockery out of the rules,” House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) protested. “You and I know, if we got an up-or-down vote, the President’s proposal would succeed.”
‘Great Bursting Barrel’
Michel characterized the spending bill as “a great bursting barrel of rancid pork” that the President is certain to veto. “There’s not been so much pork seen in one place since the last Porky Pig film festival,” he said.
The House Republican whip, Rep. Trent Lott of Mississippi, said that the Democrats’ tactics will simply delay the final resolution of both the spending and contra aid issues. “In a month, six weeks or two months, we’ll be back here with no urgent supplemental (spending) and no contra aid, even though the House and Senate have voted for it,” he said.
Democrats defended their procedural ploy on the ground that the $100 million for contra aid should be considered in the same context with other urgent spending priorities. “When we vote on this bill,” Rep. David E. Bonior (D-Mich.) said, “we must face up to the true cost of the war in Nicaragua.”
Bonior emphasized that most public opinion polls show that a majority of Americans are opposed to contra aid--to which Hyde replied, “If Jesus Christ had taken a poll in Jerusalem, he would have never preached the gospel.”
Veterans’, Ulster Aid
Among other things, the measure opposed by the White House would suspend the President’s authority to defer future spending approved by Congress for a variety of programs, including $702 million to begin improving security at U.S. embassies around the world, $272 million for Veterans Administration compensation and pension programs and $50 million to promote reconciliation in Northern Ireland.
Noting that the measure contains some money for farmers also, California Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Merced) sought to capitalize on opposition to contra aid in the Farm Belt. He said that the Republicans “want to fund the contras but not to fund the combines.”
The Senate-passed contra aid bill would immediately provide the insurgents with $30 million in non-lethal aid as well as some money for weapons judged to be “defensive” in character, such as Stinger ground-to-air missiles. But the remainder of the $70 million for military aid would be withheld for 90 days to encourage a diplomatic solution in the region.
Would Force Talks
Unlike the Senate-passed measure, the McCurdy proposal would provide no military aid before July 28. It would also require a second affirmative vote by Congress to release the military funds after July 28. In addition, it would require the President to seek bilateral negotiations with the Nicaraguan government--something Reagan has resisted.
A third option, to be proposed by Rep. Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.) and supported by the House Democratic leadership, would provide no military aid to the contras. In addition, Rep. Robert J. Mrazek (D-N.Y.) intends to offer an amendment that would deny the Administration permission to send U.S. troops to train the contras.