It was incorrectly reported in some editions yesterday that Rep. Stan Parris (R-Va.) voted in favor of an amendment to weaken the nuclear freeze resolution. Parris did not vote on the amendment, sponsored by Rep. Mark D. Siljander (R-Mich.).
The controversial nuclear freeze resolution, which President Reagan and administration allies narrowly defeated last year, survived two test votes in the Democratic House last night, but a coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats managed to delay final consideration until next week.
The frequently impassioned debate lasted more than 13 hours as freeze advocates fought off two administration-endorsed amendments, one sponsored by Mark Siljander (R-Mich.) and the other by Rep. Samuel S. Stratton (D-N.Y.), which would have weakened the resolution significantly.
Despite the parliamentary maneuvers which postponed the final vote, both sides predicted that the freeze resolution, sponsored by Reps. Clement J. Zablocki (D-Wis.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and 195 other House members, will pass ultimately. Administration lobbyists were debating last night whether the president should mount a personal lobbying campaign over the weekend to try to defeat it.
The Zablocki-Markey resolution calling for an "immediate, mutual and verifiable freeze" on nuclear weapons would deal a sharp rebuff to Reagan on arms control. It calls for a major change in the administration's proposals at the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) under way in Geneva, and while it would not legally require that change, it would be politically and diplomatically difficult for Reagan to continue his current approach.
Reagan argues that a freeze would leave the United States strategically behind the Soviets, and that America must build up its military strength even while it discusses reductions with the Soviets. The freeze resolution, however, says the two superpowers immediately should stop testing, producing and deploying nuclear weapons, and then begin to retire arms they have stockpiled.
The resolution is given little chance of passage in the Republican-controlled Senate, but the votes in both houses give pro-freeze Democrats a potentially powerful issue in the 1984 elections.
"The Congress and the American people want a halt to the arms race and this administration is clearly not pursuing that objective," Markey said at the opening of the day-long debate, calling on his colleagues to declare that "enough is enough."
Opponents, however, said a freeze would undermine U.S. negotiators in Geneva and lock in Soviet military superiority, particularly in medium-range missiles aimed at Western Europe. "Let's not let the Soviet Union win in Congress what they failed to win in the German elections," said Rep. William S. Broomfield (R-Mich.).
The test votes last night reflected the broad grass-roots popularity of the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign, and public concern over the Reagan administration's arms buildup. Reagan has proposed a $1.7 trillion military budget over the next five years, in order to upgrade nuclear forces with the MX missile, the Trident submarine, the B1 bomber and other new weapon systems.
The freeze provides a clear measure of the changed composition of the House, where 26 new Democratic seats won this November have made it difficult for Reagan to prevail. Last year, the president telephoned members on the floor to change votes and managed to defeat a similar resolution, 204 to 202.
As debate on this year's resolution stormed on toward midnight last night, Democrats tried to set a time limit for consideration of six pending amendments. When Republicans balked, House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr.(D-Mass.) accused them of buying time "so the president can get on the phone and call members to see if he can twist their wrists."
Shortly before midnight, the Democrats, many of whom wanted to return to their districts for St. Patrick's Day, called off the debate. Republicans succeeded in prolonging it partly because of confusion caused when Zablocki declared, in a departure from previous interpretations, that the freeze would not preclude deployment of the B1 bomber and other weapons systems.
Other freeze proponents quickly disagreed. Zablocki sat down and Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.) took over the defense, while opponents ridiculed the resolution as "gibberish."
Markey said after the House adjourned, "The White House may be able to twist arms, that will be far outweighed by hundreds of thousands of phone calls which will come in now from the grass roots of this country" in favor of the freeze.
Rep. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said, "The Markey forces were caught off guard. They were stunned by the effectiveness of our arguments." He added, however, that the fight is still "an uphill battle" for Reagan.
The Siljander amendment, which failed 209 to 215, called for a freeze "and/or reduction" of nuclear weapons, thus avoiding a clear direction to change administration policy. Democrats opposed it 204 to 57, while Republicans approved 152 to 11. In the Maryland delegation, Michael D. Barnes (D) and Steny H. Hoyer (D) voted against it, while Beverly Byron (D) and Marjorie Holt (R) voted for it.
Virginia Republicans Stan Parris and Frank Wolf voted for it.
Stratton's amendment, which declared that the freeze resolution should not be construed to prevent "modernization" of the U.S. nuclear deterrent, would have allowed the administration to proceed with a weapons buildup during a freeze. It was defeated, 226 to 195, by a substitute that said the freeze would allow "maintenance" of the U.S. nuclear deterrent.
The difference between the pro-freeze and the anti-freeze forces is based on a fundamental disagreement over whether the United States and the Soviet Union currently have "essential equivalence" in nuclear weapons.
According to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the Soviet Union has more intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched ballistic missile launchers, while the United States has more heavy bombers and strategic nuclear weapons.
The Soviets are ahead in missile throw-weight; the United States has an edge in missile reliability. The United States also has many more submarine-launched ballistic missiles and heavy bombers ready at a given time. The freeze is a simplistic solution, opponents said. "If you ask an average American what a Trident is, he'd say a stick of gum," said Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.). "He thinks the Minuteman is an ad for an insurance company."
However, Rep. Michael Barnes (D-Md.) said: "There's concern we are on a headlong race toward destruction and we've got to find a way to get off it."