Pressure for production of neutron weapons appeared to grow yesterday on Capitol Hill.
The House, for the second time in a month, turned back an attempt to prohibit production next year of neutron Lance missile warheads and 8-inch artillery shells during consideration of the fiscal 1979 public works bill. The vote was 259 to 67. The public works bill contains funds for the Department of Energy's nuclear weapons program.
At the same time, drafts of a Senate Armed Services Committee report on DOE's fiscal 1979 national security program were circulated containing a request for the secretary of defense to report by the end of this year "the date by which the administration intends to proceed with production" of neutron weapons "ni the absence of specific agreements by the Soviet Union to undertake . . reciprocal restraints."
But Sen. Thomas McIntyre (D-N.H.), a key member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and supporter of neutron 8-inch shells and Lance warheads, said their importance was being over-emphasized and that newly designed nuclear but nonneutron versions of the same weapons would "be effective militarily and an important enhancement of our theater nuclear forces."
President Carter said in his April 7 statement deferring production of neutron weapons that a future decision on production of the neutron weapons would be prericated on whether the Soviets responded in kind.
The president refused to say how long he would wait for a Soviet response and administration officials have since said the neutron decision was not being considered under a deadline.
Thus the Armed Services Committee request, if honored, could force the administration to set a deadline.
The committee also recommended that neutron components be produced next year "and made ready for contingency deployment."
DOE is prepared to manufacture new nuclear Lance warheads and 8-inch shells that could be turned into neutron weapons with the insertion of neutron components.
The DOE plan to modernize the currently deployed 20-year-old NATO nuclear artillery stockpile has been awaiting Defense Department and White House approval for two months.
The delay, according to DOE and Defense Department sources, stems from bureaucratic arguing over whether the new weapons and their neutron cores should be produced in two separate stages or at the same time.
Some sources have argued the non-neutron "emasculated" nuclear weapons would be so low in yield as to be ineffective.
McIntyre, in separate views to the Armed Services Committee report, said that "senior, seasoned, uniformed military witnesses unambiguously testified that the new designs, even without enhanced radiation . . . would be effective militarily . . ."
He also chided his colleagues on their request for reports from the administration, saying this "perpetuates this misplaced emphasis on the controversy" over neutron weapons, which he terms "only one aspect of our modernization of theater nuclear forces."
McIntyre argued that the longer range, safety and security features and quicker loading time of the new nonneutron but nuclear Lance warhead and artillery shell "provide military advantages (over current weapons) at least as significant as the enhanced radiation feature."
Yesterday's House debate and vote showed a further decline in the number of members who oppose neutron weapons.
The amendment to prohibit production, offered by Rep, Ted Weiss (D-N.Y.) received 23 fewer favorable votes than a similar proposal one month ago.
Last year, there were 109 House votes against neutron weapon production.
The decline in debating time was also significant. Last year, discussion went two full days. A month ago it was several hours stretched over two sessions. yesterday it consumed less than an hour.
An amendment put on last year's money bill gave Congress 45 days to veto a presidential production decision to produce neutron weapons. Last month, an attempt to attach similar language to the DOE authroization bill failed on a voice vote. Yesterday it was not offered.