After an often-emotional debate, the House last night adjourned without taking a vote on an amendment that would delete funds for all neutron weapons.
Offered by Rep. Ted Weiss (D.N.Y.), it would delete money from the fiscal 1978 Energy Research and Development Administration authorization bill. Shortly after yesterday's debate began, one speaker after another attacked the idea of the neutron weapon and nuclear war. But proponents of the neutron program remained silent, confident that they had the votes to defeat the Weiss amendment.
The most heated exchanges featured liberal Democrats against liberal Democrats.
Rep. Robert M. Carr (D-Mich.), who normally opposes Pentagon programs, supported this one. At one point he was being questioned by three Democratic colleagues at once.
"I haven't had so many liberal friends talking to me in a long time," Carr said.
"I hope you cherish it," Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman (D.N.T.) shot back, "because it might not be repeated for a long time." Carr at one point told his colleagues, "You're misinformed (about neutron weapons) because a lot of information was available to you only through newspapers . . . and those accounts have been inaccurate." Carr said the proposed weapons would replace other tactical nuclear weapons that he said were more destructive.
Rep. Ronald V. Dellums (D-Calif.) made the most emotional plea, crying out that "Nuclear war is unthinkable."
Neutron weapons, Dellums said, make nuclear war "thinkable, acceptable, possible and," with his voice rising, "ultimately inevitable. Thinking like that goes into the building of this insane weapon."
Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.) said that the neutron weapons "have a great potential in blurring the bright light between nuclear and conventional weapons." She added that those who term it a "clean weapon worry me a lot. Cleaner compared to what?" she asked. "Compared to conventional weapons it's not clean at all."
The main defense for the weapon came from Rep. William L. Dickinson (R-Ala.), a ranking GOP member of the House Armed Services Committee. Dickinson said the neutron weapons are "something that will inhibit the Russians . . . they would permit nuclear coverage of 60 per cent more area (in Europe) than can be used by the regular Lance nuclear warhead, which has a larger kill area of blastheat and fire."
At one point Dickinson said the neutron weapons were needed because the United States has no capability to counter Russian and Warsaw Pact nations' gas warfare capabilities.
The bill under debate authorizes $2.6 billion for 1978 ERDA military programs. The exact amount for neutron weapons is classified, but it would support initial production of 8-inch neutron artillery shells and neutron warheads for the 56-mile range Lance missile. Also in the bill is research and testing money for neutron shells for 155 mm artillery.
Should President Carter approve their production, the Congress would have 45 days to pass a joint resolution overruling that decision. Carter has delayed going ahead with his decision on neutron weapons awaiting support from NATO countries on whose territory they will be deployed and possibly used.
The House is to vote on the Weiss amendment today. When debate ended, Rep. Charles H. Wilson (D-Calif.:, floor manager of the ERDA bill and strong supporter of neutron weapons, indicated cofidence that the amendment would be defeated.