Meeting behind closed doors, House and Senate panels took conflicting actions Wednesday that signaled the beginning of a highly partisan congressional battle over the funding of the small, single-warhead mobile missile known as Midgetman, congressional sources said.
In the Senate, the Republican-controlled Armed Services Committee voted to cut President Reagan's $1.4-billion request for the Midgetman by half. But at the same time, a Democratic-controlled House subcommittee voted for a measure designed to force the Administration to begin full-scale development of the small missile during the next year.
Both votes came at the outset of congressional deliberations on a Pentagon budget for fiscal 1987, which begins in October.
Wilson Opposes Development
Led by California Sen. Pete Wilson, Republicans have been campaigning to block development of the Midgetman, which has been the centerpiece of the Democrats' defense program. The Senate Armed Services Committee vote represented an initial victory for their effort.
But by a vote of 9 to 2, the House Armed Services subcommittee on research and development approved an amendment by Rep. Dave McCurdy (D-Okla.) that would prohibit deployment of more than 10 MX missiles until the Administration begins full-scale development of the Midgetman.
Committee sources described the two competing actions as early "posturing" by the House and Senate, which ultimately must resolve their differences in a joint conference committee after both chambers act on a defense authorization bill. The House subcommittee has not yet voted on a specific funding level for the Midgetman.
Congress already has approved deployment of 50 heavy, multiple-warhead MX missiles, and the first 10 are expected to be deployed by the end of 1986. At the same time, the Pentagon wants to delay full-scale development of the Midgetman until at least October, 1987. Currently, Midgetman is not expected to be ready for deployment until 1992.
Midgetman Cuts Not Opposed
Gen. Larry D. Welch, who commands the nation's nuclear missile forces and is awaiting Senate confirmation as Air Force chief of staff, told the Senate committee last week that development of the Midgetman is being delayed while the Pentagon re-examines its design. As a result, he said, the Administration does not oppose the Senate committee's cut in Midgetman funding for fiscal 1987.
Many Democrats support the Midgetman on the basis of its original design, which calls for a 30,000-pound rocket, carrying a single nuclear warhead, to be mounted on a truck--enhancing its chances of surviving a nuclear attack.
But based on the findings of a General Accounting Office study, Wilson and other critics of the small mobile missile have argued that it should be redesigned to make it heavier and capable of carrying multiple warheads.
'Star Wars' Also at Issue
Sources said that the Senate committee had not yet acted on a subcommittee recommendation to provide $4 billion next year for Reagan's so-called "Star Wars" space-based missile defense system, which is expected to be another point of contention between the House and Senate.
According to sources, the House Armed Services Committee staff has recommended $3.1 billion for the program, formally known as the Strategic Defense Initiative--an increase of only $200 million over the funding level set by Congress for the current fiscal year.