Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.) is a member of the Armed Services Committee, the Post Office and Civil Service Committee and the Select Committee on Youth, Children and Families. She is also the senior woman in Congress, the coiner of the term "teflon presidency." and she's not the least bit mystified about what has happened with the Defense Department's budget.

At the fourth Women's Leadership Conference, sponsored by the Committee for National Security, she shared some thoughts with more than 100 women leaders who assembled in Washington last week for a briefing on national security. She didn't mince words.

"The defense contractors are the welfare queens of the '80s," she said. She cited recent testimony by Joseph Sherick, inspector general of the Defense Department, who told the House Energy and Commerce Committee that 45 of the top 100 defense contractors are under criminal investigation by his office.

Those are rather stunning numbers. But she had more. "There has been a 1,400 percent increase in strategic-weapons spending since 1980." These are the worst kinds of weapons, she said, because they are based on the principle of instant retaliation: "It gets you, too.

"In no other part of the budget could we have had such an increase without asking some questions," such as "why?" she said.

"You ask those questions," said Schroeder, "and it's like wearing a bathing suit to church."

She also doesn't think much of the way we build weapons systems in as many congressional districts "as possible," a total of some 250 districts, she said. She suggested that if we are going to continue building weapons systems that way, "Well, then, look at weapons systems as public works projects."

The question now, she said, was not shifting money toward social programs -- "I love the way they snarl when they say social programs" -- but the deficit. "Blessed are the young; they're going to inherit the national debt," she said.

"As a woman, they want to tell you, 'It's not your area, honey. You've never been in a war.' I can usually say to them, 'Neither have you . . . . ' I point out that I have the same flying license Barry Goldwater has and I took aerodynamics in school."

She said that Sweden was the only country monitoring the arms control talks that had a delegation with members "that look like us." She said Maj Britt Theorin, a member of the Swedish parliament, and head of the Swedish Disarmament Commission, invited about 50 women parliamentarians, including some from the Soviet Union, to a seminar on peace and disarmament in April.

Three American congresswomen attended the April meeting -- Schroeder, Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Claudine Schneider (R-R.I.).

The women adopted a resolution calling for the United States and the Soviet Union to initiate an immediate, comprehensive and verifiable halt to the production of nuclear weapons, and a series of "confidence-building" measures that could ease tensions.

The resolution called for an immediate pause on the testing and deployment of all nuclear weapons during the Geneva negotiating process, to be followed by a halt to production within one year of all nuclear weapons. The resolution said "this immediate verifiable pause would halt deployment of new destabilizing weapons and lead the Geneva talks into a positive, productive direction."

The resolution also called for an independent initiative on the part of either superpower halting all nuclear warhead testing for six-months, while calling on the other superpower to follow suit.

Schroeder has introduced a bill calling on the president to initiate such a test ban on Aug. 6, the anniversary of the first atomic bombing, and should he fail to do so, directing Congress to remove the funding from the Department of Energy's nuclear weapons program for a limited time. An aide to Schroeder said part of the idea was borrowed from a strategy proposed by President John F. Kennedy in 1963 to start "spiraling down" the arms race.

"They got that statement out in a day and a half," Schroeder told the meeting of women, emphasizing that both Soviet and American women helped draft it. "Turn arms control over to that group and they would do very, very well."

But that group isn't involved directly in arms control -- which, of course, made its task easier. With the exception of Sweden's delegate, women don't appear to be involved at all. There's no mystery in Schroeder's mind as to what women need to do about that. "How do we get up to the table with the cowboys?" she said. "That's our job."