The House voted overwhelmingly yesterday to give President Carter authority next year to go ahead with production of neutron weapons if he decides they are in the national interest.
In acting on the fiscal 1979 Department of Energy national security program authorization bill, the House also swept aside a provision in current law the gives Congress 45 days to block, by joint resolution, any decision by the president to produce the weapons.
The actions showed increased support among House members for building and deploying neutron weapons and a strong desire to avoid interfering with the president's ability to act.
By 306 to 90, the House defeated an amendment by Rep. Ted Weiss (D-N.Y.) that would have barred use of fiscal 1979 funds for neutron weapons production. That was 19 fewer votes than a similar Weiss amendment received a year ago.
The amendment that would have given Congress 45 days to a veto presidential decisim to build neutron weapons, offered by Rep. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), was defeated without a recorded vote.
Dodd sought to extend existing law, which provides for the 45-day period, for another year. That congressional check on possible presidential action originally was drafted last July in the Senate by Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) and Minority Leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.).
Chairman Melvin Price (D-Ill.) of the House Armed Services Committee said the Dodd amendment was unnecessary," adding that there was enough protection for Congress in the bill as written.
Without psecific language such as next year would need only the approval of the House and Senate Armed Services and Appropriations committee to go ahead with neutron weapon production.
Dodd could only muster 12 votes for his amendment, while opponents got 54 on a division of members in the chamber. There was no roll-call vote on th proposal.
During the four hours of House debate, members of the Armed Services Committee echoed Rep. Bob Wilson (R-Calif.) who declared, "This is the only weapons system we have that the Russians are afraid of."
Another committee member, Rep. Samuel S. Stratton (D-N.Y.) struck a second common theme of opponents to the Weiss amendment: "We are being asked to restrict, to tie the hands of the President of the United States."
Weiss argued the neutron weapons would lower the threshold of nuclear war and several times cited statements by Presient Carter and Defense Secretary Harold Brown that a first use of tactical nuclear weapons almost inevitably would lead to a strategic nuclear holocaust.
He was joined by Rep. Paul Simon (D-Ill.), who asked, "Does anyone believe that if we go ahead with neutron weapons the Soviets will not?"
The Energy Department, which builds U.S. nuclear weapons, has developed and is prepared to produce neutron eight-inch artillery shells and warheads for the Lance missile.
Neutron weapons, unlike nuclear shells and missiles in the current stockpile, are designed to kill enemy troops primarily by radiation rather than to destroy their tanks and equipment through heat and blast. Proponents have argued that neutron weapons would be more effective against Soviet tanks than nuclear shells now with NATO forces.
Public disclosure last year of U.S. intentions to build neutron weapons and deploy them in Western Europe caused extensive public debate both in this country and in Europe.
On April 7, Carter announced he would defer their production to see if the Soviet Union would show similar restraint in its deployment of military forces and missiles on the NATO front.
The $2.9 billion DOE authorization bill, which passed the House yesterday, contains funds to build new eight-inch nuclear shells and Lance missile warheads.
Under Carter's recent proposal, those nuclear weapons will be non-neutron but could be changed if the president decided the enhanced-radiation weapons were needed.
Th DOE authorization bill goes to the Senate, where opposition last year to neutron weapons was much stronger than in the House.