A bitterly divided Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday failed to reach agreement on a draft report strongly critical of the new strategic arms limitation treaty (SALT II).
Meeting in closed session, the committee rejected a proposal, in effect, to rename the report a compilation of members' views, but ran out of time before acting on the document itself. If a final vote had been taken yesterday, informed sources said, the report would have been adopted by a vote of 9 to 8.
The meeting broke up at 1 p.m., two hours after the Senate convened for the day, because Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, objected to waiving the Senate rules to permit a longer meeting.
Church's unusual objection is an indication of the strong emotions provoked by the proposed Armed Services Committee report, which both Church and some members of Armed Services regard as an intrusion on the prerogatives of the Foreign Relations panel.
Sen. John C. Stennis (D-Miss.), chairman of Armed Service, reportedly agrees that it would be improper for his committee to issue a formal report on a treaty, which is clearly in the domain of Foreign Relations. Stennis is supported on this point by seven other members of the committee, informed sources said, including the half-dozen members of the 17-member panel who appear favorably disposed toward SALT II.
The disputed report was drafted by a group of aides to anti-SALT senators on the panel. In public testimony recently, Defense Secretary Harold Brown called it "the Perle report," a reference to one of its authors, Richard Perle, an aide to Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.).
The report contains a detailed list of criticisms of the treaty, concluding that only radical changes in the document would make it acceptable for the United States. Pro-SALT senators on the committee argue that the report contains "factual errors" and "conceptual errors," and they want to consider it line by line -- proposing changes as they proceed -- before the full committee decides whether to adopt it.
"There's a filibuster going on," one anti-SALT source said of this tactic. One of the senators who favor the line-by-line review said it was desirable to "correct" the report before voting on it, and that prolonged committee consideration of it would give members time "to reflect over the holidays" on how they wanted to handle this delicate matter.
Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.VA.), a leading promoter of SALT II, reportedly shares the view that it would be improper for Armed Services to issue a report on a treaty. According to an anti-SALT source on the committee, Byrd has threatened to try to withhold funds for printing the report, if a majority on the committee approves it. (Byrd could not be reached for comment.)
"They'll resort to book burning to stop the report," this source said. Backers of the draft report were said to feel that the pro-treaty senators and the White House were "desperate" to block the report.
"The White House controls this committee," an exasperated Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) said after yesterday's meeting.
J. James Exon (D-Neb.), a first-term senator who appears to be disposed toward SALT II, complained that the backers of the report "were trying to force it through without taking into account the opinion of the minority."
Exon said he thought the conclusions of the report "were written before we started our hearings" on SALT II last summer.
Informed sources said the proceedings inside the closed committee room were emotional, an unusual manifestation of strong feelings by senators.