The House passed a $197.4 billion defense appropriations bill last night after easily defeating efforts to block the two main new strategic weapons systems President Reagan has called for: the B1 bomber and the land-based MX missile.
Helped by the argument that the president needs the new plane as a bargaining chip, the B1 was approved on a 263-to-142 vote.
The MX was likewise approved over objections that the administration still had not figured out a deployment that would not be vulnerable to increasingly accurate Soviet missiles. The MX vote was 264 to 139.
After narrowly surviving a proposed sweeping cut of 2 percent, the bill was passed, 335 to 61.
This latest victory for the president in the defense field came scant hours after he unveiled his plan for mutual reductions in the nuclear arsenals of the United States and the Soviet Union.
"The B1 is one of the president's negotiating chips," said Rep. Jack Edwards of Alabama, ranking Republican on the Appropriations subcommittee on defense, as he urged colleagues to reject an amendment to kill the B1. The same kind of arguments were used on behalf of the MX intercontinental missile, which Reagan wants to deploy later in this decade to offset Soviet blockbusters already targeted on the United States.
"We have to back him up," said Rep. Robert J. Lagomarsino (R-Calif.) in exhorting members to approve the MX and give the Reagan administration maximum leverage during the upcoming discussions with the Soviets on arms reduction.
The B1 and MX were the most controversial items in the bill appropriating $197.4 billion to the Defense Department for fiscal 1982. That total was about $3.4 billion less than Reagan requested and $11 billion under the total approved Tuesday by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Rep. Joseph P. Addabbo (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee that produced the bill, had managed to impose cuts in the Pentagon budget within that panel, but on the floor last night he failed by wide margins. He said at one point that he wanted to delete money for ground-launch cruise missiles but realized such an amendment would not have a chance "because nobody cares about the facts."
Addabbo offered the amendment to delete $1.8 billion for the B1 bomber on grounds that the money would be better spent on the radar-evading Stealth aircraft now under development.
"The B1 is a bummer of a bomber," asserted Addabbo, declaring it will cost at least $300 million each and could not be ready in quantity much before the less vulnerable Stealth.
"We have the direct testimony" of Pentagon leaders "that the Stealth bomber could come on line by 1988 or 1989, if properly funded," Addabbo said.
"We have information that Stealth was not properly funded" by the Defense Department for fear the advanced plane would get in the way of the B1 which the Air Force prizes.
"The B1 is just as much a paper airplane as the Stealth," said Addabbo, as evidenced by the Air Force's intention to spend $2 billion in research and development funds to perfect it.
Besides stressing that the president needed the B1 to strengthen his hand in negotiations with the Soviets, Edwards warned of a bomber gap later in this decade when the aged B52 fleet would be unacceptably vulnerable to Soviet defenses. The first B1s would be available in 1986, under the Pentagon's timetable, and the Stealth in the early 1990s.
Taking the public works tack, Rep. Lyle Williams (R-Ohio) also came right out and said on the floor that he favored building the B1 because it would mean "over 16,000 jobs for Ohio."
The Virginia delegation voted for the B1 and the MX while the Maryland lawmakers split. Voting for the bomber and the missile were Maryland Democrats Beverly B. Byron, Roy Dyson, Steny H. Hoyer and Republican Marjorie S. Holt. Voting to cancel the bomber and the MX were Democrats Michael D. Barnes, Clarence D. Long, Barbara A. Mikulski and Parren J. Mitchell.
The sweeping 2 percent cut proposed by a New Jersey Republican, Marge Roukema, was defeated, 202 to 197. Republican Frank R. Wolf of Virginia and Hoyer, Mikulski and Mitchell supported it; all the others voted no.
On final passage, the bill was approved by all the Virginians and by all the Marylanders except Mikulski and Mitchell, who didn't vote.