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Senate Acts to Cancel Mobile MX Missile : Defense: 67-33 decision would save $600 million by not putting weapon on rail cars. $269.7-billion Pentagon spending bill is passed by voice vote.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Senate voted Thursday to cancel the MX mobile missile program, providing yet another indication that the democratic revolution sweeping the globe is rapidly swinging Congress in the direction of deeper defense cuts.

The 67-33 decision would save $600 million by scrapping plans to test the possible deployment of nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles on mobile rail cars. Only eight weeks earlier, the Senate defeated a similar amendment by one vote.

Ten Republicans and six Democrats switched sides amid arguments that the Soviet military threat has fallen sharply in recent weeks with the collapse of Communist rule. MX supporters protested in vain that U.S. defense expenditures already were being cut enough--more than 20% over five years--and that the Soviet threat has not disappeared.

The Senate began moving toward deeper defense spending cuts Wednesday when it came within three votes of halting production of the B-2 Stealth bomber and within one vote of slashing funds for “Star Wars” anti-missile defenses. Both programs--top priorities of President Bush--had survived assaults by far bigger margins nearly two months ago.

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Amendments challenging the MX, B-2 and “Star Wars” were offered as the Senate debated a $269.7-billion defense spending bill for the 1992 fiscal year, which begins next Tuesday. The Senate approved the spending measure by voice vote Thursday night.

A separate defense spending bill approved by the House includes funds for the MX but calls for ending B-2 production at 15 planes and for spending substantially less on “Star Wars” than proposed by the Senate.

The two measures will go to a Senate-House conference committee to reconcile differences. It is likely that the final version of the legislation will keep the B-2 program alive, at least until a planned showdown vote next spring. But the conferees are not expected to provide immediate funding for the four additional planes sought by Bush.

Although the conferees are expected to increase funding somewhat for “Star Wars,” also known as the Strategic Defense Initiative, the additional outlays seem certain to fall far short of the level sought by Bush. And the conferees appear likely to kill the plan to make the silo-based MX mobile.

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The result may be a veto confrontation with Bush, especially if the final bill contains a Senate provision that would allow military servicewomen to obtain privately financed abortions at bases overseas.

Bush probably would prevail in a veto showdown. But lawmakers and aides predicted that this week’s Senate votes presage cuts in defense spending next year that will far exceed the reductions specified last fall in a five-year budget agreement struck by the White House and Congress.

Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), the respected chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, acknowledged in debate that he is likely to push for deeper cuts next year, even though this week he opposed making them because, he said, they were being considered without proper analysis.

Sen. Jim Sasser (D-Tenn.), arguing that there is no reason to wait, offered the amendments to halt B-2 production, slash “Star Wars” spending and cancel the mobile MX.

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Sen. J. James Exon (D-Neb.) charged that the MX mobile deployment program was “a $600-million boondoggle to carry on a few jobs in the Pentagon.” He said the plan to shuttle MX missiles on rails between hiding places was hardly needed against a “fantasy-like threat.”

MX proponents retorted that, despite the dissolution of communism, the Soviets have deployed long-range mobile missiles and continue to build them.

“I want to make sure the (Soviet) hard-liners, KGB and military never have the boldness to try again what they tried in August,” said Sen. Malcolm Wallop (R-Wyo.), referring to the failed coup against Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev. “Only by remaining strong for a few more years can we ensure the culmination of victory.”

Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) supported the MX cut, but Sen. John Seymour (R-Calif.) opposed it.

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