It ordinarily would be safe to say that what Rep. Bob Carr (D-Mich.) intends to do on the House floor tomorrow will be nothing more than another Don Quixote tilt at the windmill.
But this time Carr will lower his lance and charge his elders on the House Armed Services Committee in a different way, a way sure to be wounding, if not victorious. And the White House and Pentagon will be on her side for a change.
Instead of attacking one weapon after another in the Pentagon money bill, Carr and his allies plan to assault the whole bill, dismissing it as one big slab of pork that must be thrown out if the House is to look serious about national defense.
Carr said in an interview that the bill setting dollar ceilings for Pentagon weapons and programs will be easy to holp up to ridicule, hurtful as that may be to such Armed Services seniors as Chairman Melvin R. price (D-III.) and Samuel S. Stratton (D-N.Y.).
Carr, a member of the committee, said Stratton went so far in the secret markup of the money bill as to add language authorizing the Pentagon "to shovel snow" and do other work for the coming winter Olympics at Lake Placid in Stratton's home state.
"Here's Sam Stratton, the big hawk, wanting to take some $150 million out of the Pentagon's operation and maintenance account, which provides the readiness of the military, so they can move snow and direct traffic" at Lake Placid, Carr said.
Others in the secret markup, Carr complained, rewrote President Carter's defense bill to help such home area contractors as Newport News Shipbuilding and Grumman, Lockheed, Northrop and Vought aircraft companies.
"Taking care of the home folks" became such a preoccupation, Carr said, that Rep. Richard H. Ichord (D-Mo.) warned fellow members that "the Committee on Armed Services was making itself into eunuch because we were just adding on and adding on; not prioritizing, not fashioning a national defense stategy or policy within reasonable spending limits."
Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.) said in a separate interview that Armed Services, of which he also is a member, has become "frivolous" in the way it changes the president's defense bill because the committee's old power of setting the ceilings on defense funding has passed to the House Budget Committee established in 1974.
Relieved of the sobering responsibility of deciding how much is enough, Aspin said, committee members feel freer to indulge in "backscratching" by adding money for projects that will look good back home, even though the Appropriations Committee will not be able to fund many of them because of the imposed budget ceiling.
This backscratching has increased progressively since the Budget Committee came into power, making this year's Armed Services Committee bill the most pork-laden yet, Aspin said.
Carr said his cohort will try to draw the issue as pork vs. responsibility in urging members to substitute Carter's original bill, with some changes, for the one the Armed Services Committee has written. The house committee bill is $2.4 billion more than the president requested, with most of the increase going for a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and a nuclear cruiser.
"If we let it become just a fight over what kind of aircraft carrier should be built," Carr said, "we'll lose. We'll try to let the House work its will be essentially writing the defense bill on the floor. We have to reframe the issue," making "fiscal responsibility" the question rather than which weapons should be bought.
If Carr substitution of Carter's bill for the committee's is voted down, he and his allies will revert to trying to vote down specific weapons - usually a losing battle.
Carr said the White House and Pentagon are supporting him while a coalition of defense contractors is mobilizing against his substitute authorization bill.
The Carter administration is especially anxious to delete the $2 billion aircraft carrier from the committee bill. Aspin will sponsor an amendment to substitute a conventionally powered carrier for the nuclear one, a move that has the full backing of Carter even though he recommended in January that no new carrier be funded this year.
"We're going to give its good try," said a Carter administration lobbyist of the effort to return the defense bill to its original size.
"Their reality has been blown and they don't realize the American people want to hold the line on defense spending," said Carr of the Armed Services Committee majority.
Stratton, in unsuccessfully urging colleagues earlier to raise the congressional budget ceiling to accommodate his committee's increase in the defense budget, said the extra money was needed to provide the 3 percent increase promised by the president.
"It prevents the president from being called a liar," Stratton said.