The House approved a $5.5 billion military construction authorization bill yesterday, and in the process put off until later a fight over whethher the United States should resume production of nerve gas for military use.
The United States stopped producing chemical weapons more than 10 years ago, in good part because of public fears of accidents in transporting and storing the gas within this country. Production cannot be resumed without specific approval by the president.
But now scientists have come up with a binary weapon consisting of two gases which are harmless while separate and become lethal only when they are mixed after being launched toward a target. The administration is opposed to moving forward now with new chemical weapons production.
But the House, first in a military construction appropriation bill recently and again yesterday in the authorization bill, voted $3.15 million to begin construction of a plant in Arkansas which could be used to produce chemical weapons. The bill authorizing the project should have been passed first, but the House often does things backwards when one bill is ready before the other.
Both bills have been approved by Senate committees without the binary weapons money. They are awaiting floor action. Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.) has recently become persuaded that the money should be authorized, and is circulating an amendment among Armed Services Committee members that would authorize the $3.15 million.
A House fight on the issue had been expected yesterday, but since the House had already voted to appropriate the money there was considerable doubt that this could have been undone by an amendment to the authorization bill. Opponents decided the best way to proceed was to delay a fight until the bill goes to House-Senate conference, where the issue would be decided if the Senate does not vote the money.