The House voted 338 to 62 yesterday to bust President Carter's weapons budget next fiscal year by $6.2 billion.
The vote on the authorization bill was the second victory of the day for those who favor large increases in defense spending; the first and more important came as House budget conferees bowed to the Senate and agreed to let Pentagon outlays rise as high as $153.7 billion in fiscal 1981.
The vote in the House was more symbolic than binding. The authorization bill must still go through the Senate, where the Carter administration is expected to press the Armed Services Committee to cut it back. Then there must be separate votes actually to spend the weapons sums authorized, and the Appropriations committees are also expected to recommend less than the House approved yesterday.
But the pro-defense tide yesterday was running strong.
In the biggest single increase of any one account, the House authorized the Navy to spend $8.4 billion, instead of the $6.2 billion Carter requested, to buy more ships.
The extra $2.2 billion for shipbuilding would go for two additional Los Angeles-class attack submarines; two more Perry-class patrol frigates and for bringing the battleship New Jersey and aircraft carrier Oriskany out of mothballs.
Critics consider bringing back the New Jersey and Oriskany a pointless act since the Navy today is so short of skilled personnel it cannot fully man the ships it already has on active duty. Supporters of reactivation argue that the two old ships would give the Navy extra punch in a hurry. The bill provides $255 million for the New Jersey and $305 million for the Oriskany.
Other additions to Carter's procurement budget include $1.3 billion for Navy warplanes, $1.1 billion for Air Force planes and $78 million to increase production of XM1 tanks to 90 a month by mid-1983.
Chairman Melvin Price (D-Ill.) of the Armed Services Committee conceded at the start of debate that the weaponry increase from $46.9 billion to $53.1 billion represented the biggest single jump in that part of the Pentagon budget since he came to Congress 35 years ago.
Price contended that the extra $6.2 billion was need so the military services could buy aircraft missiles and ships at a faster rate "to close a critical gap in capability."
Chairman Joseph P. Addabbo (D-N.Y.) whose Appropriations subcommittee will now vote on how much of the money authorized yesterday should actually be appropriated for the Pentagon, asserted that the Armed Services Committee bill was "excessive and premature funding."
Addabbo said earmarking $1.5 billion for the MX missile and $600 million for the "resurrection of the B1" bomber in the form of a missile launcher was "a waste of needed defense dollars."
Frustration over the slow improvement in American military strength in the face of the Soviet buildup, old-fashioned pork barrel politics and the sense that voters wanted more done about national defense seemed to propel the bill through the House and over the amendments to trim it.
Many of the additions to the Carter budget could be linked to sponsors' effort to provide defense jobs back home. One looked so blatant to Rep. James F. Lloyd (D-Calif.) that he called it "insane." It was championed by Rep. Beverly Byron (D-Md.). She recommended adding $33 million to the Pentagon money bill to convert 30 A10 antitank warplanes to two-seater versions. Fairchild builds that plane in Byron's home area of Hagerstown, Md.
Lloyd told the House the money added to the bill for the A10 would soon balloon to an "unconscionable" $710 million as more and more A10s were converted to two-seaters year after year. The extra 1,200 pounds of weight coming from the second seat would also reduce the performance of the A10, which already is so under-powered that it is restricted on how much weaponry it can carry.
"We are restricting it now and we are going to put on another cockpit? That is insane," said Lloyd, a member of the Armed Services Committee. Lloyd failed to muster enough votes even to get a roll call on the A10 money.
House Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-Tex.) by contrast succeeded in getting $10 million added to the money bill to study ways "to expand the lifetime of these excellent aircraft," the F111, formerly the TFX, built by General Dynamics in his home area of Fort Worth.
Without taking a vote, Chairman Price told Wright: "On behalf of the committee I will accept the amendment and take it to conference."