In the first post-election test of President Reagan's proposed defense budget, a House Appropriations subcommittee yesterday voted to fund in fiscal 1983 all the major weapons systems the administration supports except for the controversial Pershing II missile.
There had been speculation that Democratic gains in the Nov. 2 election would leave Congress less inclined than before to go along with the president's large proposed defense buildup, and it may yet be curtailed on the House and Senate floors.
But "this subcommittee is very conscious of the communist threat," said Texas Democrat Charles Wilson, explaining yesterday's reluctance to make military spending cuts. "It's a very hawkish subcommittee."
Subcommittee members said $498 million was deleted for procurement of Pershing II missiles, a central element in plans to modernize NATO's nuclear arsenal in Europe, because of unresolved technical problems rather than opposition to the missile itself. The Pershing failed in its first two tests and a third was postponed.
"The Pershing has not had one successful flight," said Chairman Joseph P. Addabbo (D-N.Y.), adding that he expected the subcommittee action to be upheld on the floor of the House. Other congressmen said money for the intermediate-range missile can easily be added in a supplemental appropriation later this year if test results improve.
Pershing missiles, which would be stationed in West Germany to counter 300 Soviet SS20 missiles already installed and aimed at Western Europe, are now the subject of arms control negotiations in Geneva. The Senate appropriations bill includes money for the Pershing, and the Reagan administration has been anxious to maintain funding so as not to disturb relations with NATO allies.
In two days of closed-door debate, Addabbo had sought to cut Reagan's $249.5 billion military budget by $34 billion in budget authority, including funds for two nuclear aircraft carriers, the F18 fighter plane, the B1 bomber and the MX missile, for which the administration is scheduled to announce a basing mode next month.
However, Addabbo said that after an hour of heated discussion, he lost by one vote his bid to cut $1.9 billion in MX procurement funds. The subcommittee did trim the MX research and development budget by $250 million, because, Addabbo said, more research on basing is unnecessary since the administration has made clear it has decided on the "Dense Pack" mode.
Addabbo said, however, that he may well win a floor fight to knock out the MX, which came within three votes of being dropped from the defense authorization bill earlier this year. Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) has said he also has the votes in the Senate to delete MX procurement.
A $6.8 billion appropriation for two nuclear aircraft carriers, slated to be built at the Newport News, Va., shipyard, was also left in the bill, although Addabbo said he will fight to have them cut in full committee.
The chairman added, however, that there is little chance that the B1 bomber, which the subcommittee also approved yesterday, will be cut on the floor because many congressional districts have B1 related contracts.
The defense subcommittee is under instructions from the full Appropriations Committee to cut $12 billion in budget authority and $10.5 billion in 1983 outlays. Budget authority includes funding for weapons systems in future years.
It will be unclear just how much the subcommittee succeeded in cutting until results are tallied by the staff later this week. However, subcommittee sources estimated the budget authority cuts may be as high as $18 billion, while outlay cuts could fall short of the target.
There has been speculation that, if the full committee does not make significant cuts, the bill will be delayed by Democratic leaders until after January when the Democrats will have 26 more votes. However, Addabbo said he still expects the bill to reach the floor about Dec. 6.