The legislative clock is putting the Pentagon's critics in position to wipe out the giant increases just voted for defense by the House and Senate.
The problem is that all Congress has done so far is pass a bill authorizing the large sums for defense. It hasn't yet taken the next step of passing an appropriations bill turning the money over to the Pentagon, and it now appears there won't be time for that.
This means the Pentagon will have to live in fiscal 1983, which begins Oct. 1, on a so-called continuing resolution. Its level will rest largely with the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees on defense, which are in what the Pentagon regards as enemy hands.
The chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee, Rep. Joseph P. Addabbo (D-N.Y.), said in an interview last week that, "I'm going to try to cut out $20 billion and I know I can get the $11 billion" out of President Reagan's request.
The parent House Appropriations Committee has directed Addabbo's defense subcommittee to reduce Reagan's request from $249.5 billion to $237.6 billion in budget authority, a cut of $11.9 billion, to keep the national defense account from busting budget ceilings Congress has set for government departments.
The money bill before Addabbo's subcommittee contains military pay and other activities not included in the recently passed $178 billion defense authorization bill.
Addabbo estimated his subcommittee will have to cut about $10 billion out of that authorization to fit under the ceiling Congress recommended in its budget resolution. If it were business as usual in Congress, the Pentagon's champions could restore, through floor amendments, the money Addabbo's subcommittee takes out.
But this is not a usual year. Congress will not return to work until Sept. 8 and then will remain in session only about a month, adjourning around Oct. 8 for the Nov. 2 elections, and perhaps for the rest of the year.
To keep the government running from Oct. 1 on, Congress intends to pass a stopgap measure providing the money that would ordinarily come from the appropriations bills. In that emergency bill, called a continuing resolution, the Pentagon will be ordered to stay within a certain amount, most likely the total set by Addabbo's subcommittee. Continuing resolutions traditionally contain the lowest totals established in committee or on the floor.
Addabbo, who contends Reagan's defense budgets are much too high given the state of the economy and other domestic needs, has many options to work his will this year on the Pentagon's fiscal 1983 appropriations bill, including these:
* Keep the measure from moving beyond his subcommittee so the amount agreed upon there will end up in the continuing resolution.
* Let the bill advance to the House Appropriations Committee, which has called for the $11.9 billion reduction, but not to the floor where there would be attempts to restore cuts.
* Rush the bill all the way through the legislative process so Congress as a whole will decide how much is enough for defense before adjourning for the year.
Addabbo said he will try to push the bill all the way through the legislative mill, but he left himself a big out by adding: "If the Pentagon gets the information the committee has been asking for up here in time. I am waiting for further information from the Pentagon." Asked for an example of a potential snag, he said the Pentagon has yet to provide the subcommittee with what he considers adequate justification for its request of $6.8 billion for two nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.
"They're looking for two carriers," Addabbo said. "I'm looking for zero carriers."
Even if that and other issues are resolved in time to get the defense money bill through the House and to the Senate, Addabbo said it would not necessarily mean happy times for the Pentagon. He noted that the Senate defense appropriations subcommittee is also under orders by its parent committee to make big reductions in the Pentagon budget: $11.5 billion in budget authority and $8.7 billion in spending. Sen. Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.), who, like Addabbo, contends Reagan is asking far too much for defense, is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Conceding that on the floor "they could always load up the defense bill again like a Christmas tree," Addabbo said that if Congress disciplines itself to follow the budget guidelines, he and Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), chairman of the Senate defense appropriations subcommittee, will be able to agree in conference on a defense money bill considerably under the ceilings voted by the House and Senate Armed Services committees in the $178 billion authorization bill.
"Ted Stevens is fair-minded," Addabbo said. "We can work out a fair bill."
Stevens, in a separate interview, said Addabbo "is totally in command of whether we get a defense appropriations bill passed this year or not. Joe has the real call on it."
Stevens said he will start marking up the Senate version of the Pentagon money bill right after the Labor Day recess but will not send the measure to the floor until Addabbo acts.
"He Addabbo has reason to be piqued at the Department of Defense," Stevens said. "They have gone out of their way to offend him. It's hard to cooperate when they do that. They have to find a way of getting him to cooperate. Right now he doesn't have any real motivation."
Stevens said the Pentagon decided against letting the Brooklyn Navy Yard, now privately owned, restore the battleship Iowa, even though it was built there. That contract would have meant millions of dollars for Addabbo's district.
Asked if he thought the Defense Department has been treating him fairly, Addabbo replied with one word: "No." However, he said this would not influence how he handles the Pentagon's money bill in the coming months.