Sen. Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.) offered an amendment yesterday to strike funds for production of the new neutron killer warhead that are contained in the Energy Research and Development Administration portion of the public works appropriations bill.
Hatfield said yesterday he did not expect to win in the Senate Appropriations subcommittee, where he is the ranking GOP member, or in the full committee.
"I'm making a record to take for a vote on the Senate floor," he said.
The new "enhanced radiation" warhead would be the first nuclear battlefield weapon specifically designed to kill people rather than destroy military installations.
In April, 1976, then-President Ford approved its production, but the money in the public works appropriations bill now before Congress is the first funding to implement that decision.
Top Carter administration officials were taken by surprise earlier this week by reports of production plans for the warhead. A White House spokesman said Monday that the President would not automatically accept the Ford plan but would make his own decision later this year whether production of the warhead should go ahead.
During yesterday's closed-door session of the subcommittee, Hatfield reportedly argued that the United States "should not commit itself to this type of weapon" because it was primarily to kill people and also because "of what it would elicit from the other side."
The appropriations subcommittee chairman, Sen. John C. Stennis (D-Miss.), who also chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, was the leading defender of the weapon.
Stennis was said to have argued that the new warhead would support the concept of a limited nuclear land war that would not spread to use of strategic weapons.
Several senators joined Stennis in opposing the Hatfield amendment. One subcommittee member reportedly asked if further research could be funded in the bill without beginning production.
Stennis then delayed a final subcommittee vote on Hatfield's move until he could get more information on the warhead research and production schedule.
When the subcommittee turned to the controversial water projects, it received a Stennis-approved staff study which, according to one senator, contained proposal fund deletions for nine of the 18 projects President Carter wants halted.
No votes were taken on that list, which was kept private by the subcommittee. One member, Sen. J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.), asked to have a Louisiana project on the Stennis "hit list" put back among those that were to be funded.
In open session, the subcommittee approved funding for a number of Carter "hit list" projects, including the $254.9 million Richard Russell Dam in the President's home state.