President Reagan turned up the heat yesterday in his campaign for congressional approval of the MX intercontinental ballistic missile by appealing for support from the American people and charging that House members voted down money for it "without really considering the facts."
In a blistering response for the Democrats, Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (S.C.), a leading critic of the MX, called the president "the biggest spender of all time" and cited "totally undisciplined" weapons spending that he termed "budget-busting."
Speaking from Camp David in his regular Saturday radio broadcast, the president repeated his call for a go-ahead on production of the weapon he has dubbed the "Peacekeeper" while the sticky question of where to put it and how to base it is reconsidered separately.
"We're prepared to review this matter with the Congress in the new year. The basing mode is not an issue. There is plenty of time to decide on that," Reagan said. "What we need now is a clear, positive vote on the missile itself, to go forward on production of the missile."
The House stunned the administration last Tuesday by voting 245 to 176 to delete from defense appropriations $988 million needed to begin production on the first five MX missiles. Administration officials have sought a compromise package to head off a similar confrontation when the Senate votes on the missile, perhaps this week.
Referring to the nuclear arms reduction talks in Geneva, the president said in the radio address that canceling the MX would "remove a major incentive for the Soviets to stay at the table and agree to reductions.
"If we're willing to cancel a weapons system without getting something in return, why should they offer to eliminate or reduce weapons that give them an advantage over us? . . . . Without the Peacekeeper, we weaken our ability to deter war."
Reagan's controversial "Dense Pack" proposal for deploying the missile, more than the missile itself, has Congress balking. It would mean burying 100 MX missiles so closely together on the Wyoming prairie that incoming Soviet warheads theoretically would destroy each other as they detonated overhead.
After the House vote, it was disclosed that three of the five members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff opposed the Dense Pack plan.
In his broadcast response, Hollings focused on economic problems and denounced the president's "totally undisciplined program of weapons purchases that is busting the budget and breaking the economy upon which national security depends.
"You may prefer to buy MX missiles with red ink rather than school lunches with red ink, but the ink is just as red," he said. "I know you didn't set out to become the biggest spender of all time, Mr. President, but your blind stubbornness -- trying to have it all at once -- has brought you here.
"Ironically," Hollings added, "you have put 3 million Americans on welfare."
Also yesterday, Sen. Jim Sasser (D-Tenn.) recommended that the planned February test flight of the MX missile be delayed because of a rocket fuel flash fire that killed four technicians at an Air Force test center in Tullahoma, Tenn., last month.
"There is a risk of lessening the deterrent value and bargaining value of this weapon if the February test ends in failure," said Sasser, ranking Democrat on the military construction subcommittee.
Although it withheld production money, the House approved nearly $2.5 million in research and development money for the MX.