A lonely little band of House liberals tried to apply President Reagan's "waste, fraud and abuse" slogan to the Pentagon budget yesterday.
Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), the first woman on the House Armed Services Committee, dumped a stack of General Accounting Office reports detailing military waste on a table in the well of the House chamber, and asked her colleagues to help cut a "teeny bit" -- a mere $8 billion -- worth of waste.
Ronald V. Dellums (D-Calif.), the sole black on the committee, found himself quoting Mississippi's Jamie L. Whitten and U.S. News & World Report -- no commie, pinko publication," he noted -- to bolster his arguments against the Pentagon's "gold-plated weapons."
But the House, which has spent most of the year fashioning radical cuts in welfare, education and other social programs, turned a deaf ear. By a vote of 354 to 63, it cheerfully passed a $136-billion authorization for weapons, military operations and maintenance and salaries -- the largest amount ever and a $26-billion increase over fiscal 1981.
Schroeder's amendment, calling on the president to find $8 billion worth of unnecessary Pentagon spending, was defeated 142 to 276 although she tried to dress her dove in hawk's clothing.
The House Republican Research Committee, she noted, had cited $25 billion worth of unnecessary defense spending in an April report. Sixty Republican congressmen wrote Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger in May citing $25 billion worth of potential savings.
And, she argued, no less a figure than Office of Management and Budget Director David A. Stockman "told a congressional committee that DOD had so much waste the administration just had not had time to start looking for it."
However, opponents called Schroeder's amendment "a meat-ax approach" which would delay U.S. efforts to catch up with the Soviet Union in the arms race. As for cutting the Pentagon budget in order to be consistent with other agency cuts, Rep. Charles E. Bennett (D-Fla.) paraphrased Emerson's famous line. "Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds," he said. "I don't pretend to be consistent."
Of local representatives, Michael D. Barnes (D-Md.) and Virginia Republicans Stanford E. Parris and Frank R. Wolf voted against Schroeder's amendment. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) voted in favor.
The House defeated, 316 to 101, Minnesota Democrat Bruce F. Vento's effort to scrap the Navy's $35-billion F-18 fighter jet program, which is plagued with cost overruns and criticism that it is not performing according to expectations.
Vento's amendment, which would have would have allowed the Pentagon to spend the $3 billion authorized for the new plane on other weapons, brought out the House's parochial interests in full bloom. More than a dozen Missouri, California and Massachusetts congressmen spoke forcefully against the change: the plane is assembled by McDonnell Douglas Corp., of St. Louis, while Northrup Corp, in Hawthorne, Calif., supplies key parts and General Electric Co., in Lynn, Mass. builds its engines.