The House last night passed, 346 to 68, a peacetime record $231 billion defense appropriations bill after rolling over efforts to cut funds for the B1 bomber, nuclear carriers and MX missile research and development.
The vote was a sign that, despite Tuesday's rejection of $988 million in MX production funds, the vast majority of lawmakers still favor a substantial military buildup of the kind for which President Reagan has steadily pressed.
"There's a strong consensus to increase the military budget," said Majority Whip Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.). "We shouldn't take the MX vote as an indication that Congress is marching away from defense."
Before it passed the bill, the House also unanimously approved language sponsored by Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and amended by Intelligence Committee Chairman Edward P. Boland (D-Mass.), declaring that no funds in the measure could be used to arm, train or support persons, not part of a regular army, for the purpose of overthrowing the government of Nicaragua or provoking a military conflict between Nicaragua and Honduras.
That provision is directed against the administration's so-called "secret war" arming Nicaraguan exiles to fight the leftist government in that country. However, the administration did not oppose the amendment, and its sponsors said it would not prevent support for former Somoza guardsmen, so long as the funds were intended for purposes other than overthrow.
President Reagan requested $249 billion for the Pentagon for the current fiscal year, a 13.3 percent increase after allowing for inflation; he said that much was needed to counter the Soviet arms buildup.
The bill sent to the Senate last night would provide a 6 percent after inflation increase; the House rejected by voice vote an effort by Rep. Marge Roukema (R-N.J.) to limit growth to 5 percent.
The Republican-controlled Senate, while it is thought likely to concur in cutting out MX production funds, will probably report out a higher overall defense budget than the House.
But this year's growth rate is still expected to be below 1981's 10.9 percent and the 12.7 percent in 1982.
It is still not clear whether Congress will complete action on a defense appropriations bill before adjourning later this month or will fund the Defense Department through a so-called continuing resolution.
If it turns to the latter device, some of the House decisions of the last two days will have to be made all over again.
Even on the MX, the House indicated yesterday that it has not finally made up its mind.
With little debate, it approved on voice vote an amendment to retain $2.5 billion in research and development money for the controversial missile and its basing system, provided only that $560 million not be spent until April 30 to give the Congress time to examine the proposed "Dense Pack" plan for deployment.
Dense Pack would bunch 100 MX missiles in hardened silos in a small area in Wyoming in hopes that if the Soviets attacked their missiles would also be bunched and would destroy each other.
It has prompted skepticism and ridicule in Congress, culminating in Monday's vote.
House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.), reflecting the Democrats' reluctance to extend the MX battle to other weapons systems, told reporters, "You take your victories one by one. You don't do everything with a meat ax."
The amendment to retain research and development money, sponsored by Jack Edwards (R-Ala.), was accepted by MX opponent Joseph P. Addabbo (D-N.Y.), who said it was clear he did not have the votes to cut the research program by $1.4 billion as he originally proposed.
"The MX is alive and well," said Les Aspin (D-Wis.), a sometime critic of military spending who told reporters he would support the missile "if someone thinks of a way to base it." Monday's vote, he added, was "symbolic," in that it did not kill the program, nor even delay it, because the basing system would not have been ready this year anyway.
The House also rejected on voice vote, after a rather desultory debate, Addabbo's amendment to strike $3.9 billion in procurement funds for the B1 bomber.
Addabbo, chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on defense, argued that the bomber would be outdated within a year of its construction.
He said the funds should instead be spent on the so-called Stealth bomber, a more advanced version which his opponents yesterday called "a paper airplane."
Likewise, Addabbo's effort to kill $3.5 billion for one of two proposed nuclear aircraft carriers sank on a voice vote.
Ralph Regula (R-Ohio) said the carrier would create 61,000 jobs in Ohio alone, and enumerated how much money was at stake for the carrier through subcontractors in each Ohio congressional district.
Addabbo said the 61,000 figure was "a total fabrication" by the Navy. He also said the carrier's true cost is $42 billion if the price of aircraft and escort ships is figured in.
Opponents argued that carriers are sitting ducks for submarine attacks, as the Falklands war demonstrated. Carrier supporters said that building two this year, instead of one, will save $750 million.
There was no debate on the Pershing II missile, for which $498 million in procurement funds had been deleted by the Appropriations Committee.
Although the administration still wants to go ahead with production in time for deployment in West Germany next year, House members do not want to build the weapon until it undergoes further testing to resolve technical problems.