Democratic presidential candidates have reached a near-consensus on defense issues that camouflages sharp differences in many of their past records and views.

In statements submitted to The Washington Post last week, almost all the six announced and undeclared opposition-party hopefuls called for a slower defense buildup than President Reagan has proposed, but still favored continued increases in the Pentagon budget for the foreseeable future. All opposed deployment of the MX intercontinental ballistics missile and a majority opposed further work on the B1 bomber.

On the other hand, most favored continued investment in cruise missiles, Trident II submarines and the Stealth bomber.

Congress is resuming its debate over the Reagan defense program, which calls for a 10 percent real growth in defense spending after inflation and includes funds for MX missiles and B1 bombers.

House Democrats last month passed a budget resolution for fiscal 1984 allowing for a 4 percent real growth in defense spending, and Reagan faces a tough battle in the Senate in trying to increase that amount.

As part of its continuing effort to focus on the positions of Reagan's potential Democratic challengers in 1984, The Post asked them how they would alter Reagan's defense budget, requesting that they be as specific as possible about major weapons systems or such goals as the 600-ship Navy.

Replies were received from seven hopefuls--including Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.), who is expected to announce today that he has decided not to run--but Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) said the subject is "too large and too important to discuss adequately in 250 words." He refers readers to a recent essay on defense, in which, among other things, he endorsed "a steady but realistic growth in real military expenditures . . . and not the Reagan-Weinberger approach of simply letting the military service bureaucracies in the Pentagon have a blank check . . . ."

Glenn's response and replies of the other five contenders--former Florida governor Reubin Askew, former vice president Walter F. Mondale and Sens. Alan Cranston (Calif.), Gary Hart (Colo.) and Ernest F. Hollings (S.C.)--accompany this article.

They suggested that spending increase at a slower rate than Reagan proposes. Hollings favors 3 percent; Cranston, 4 or 5 percent; Askew, 5 percent with the caveat that he would be "willing to spend more if persuaded that such spending would serve a coherent strategy."

All call for eliminating the MX missile, and Glenn, in his essay, called for development of "a small, accurate and mobile land based-missile . . . without the basing limitations that plague MX."

But a look at the records of several of the Democrats shows there have been more differences among them than their current positions suggest, and, in some cases, they cast votes that contradict current positions.

Going back to 1977, the first year of Jimmy Carter's presidency, the votes on overall defense spending indicate that Cranston was the most consistent in trimming expenditures, followed by Hart, while Hollings and Glenn have voted more frequently for higher levels of spending.

In 1978, for example, only Cranston supported attempts by then-Sen. George McGovern (D-S.D.) to shift $4.6 billion from the defense to the domestic side of the budget and to reduce defense appropriations by 1 percent. In 1979, all but Cranston supported a Hollings move to boost the 1980 defense budget target by $4.4 billion.

In 1980, all the others opposed a Cranston budget amendment to cut defense spending by $2.5 billion and increase taxes and domestic spending. In 1981 and 1982, Hollings, alone among the 1984 Democratic presidential contenders, voted for $33 billion in additional increases.

In 1981, after Reagan became president, Cranston supported, but Hart, Glenn and Hollings opposed, an amendment to shift $2.2 billion of budget authority from defense to domestic programs. But in 1982 Hollings shifted sides, joining Cranston in a move to cut most defense spending by 3.3 percent.

The MX missile presents a similarly mixed picture.

Mondale supported Carter's decision to deploy the MX in a racetrack basing system in the West, but now opposes the missile and the basing mode.

Glenn has consistently favored a smaller mobile missile.

Hart has supported research and development funds for the MX but has opposed funds for deployment.

Hollings supported Carter's proposal for the MX but opposed Reagan's "Dense Pack" basing mode. Like Hart, he has supported research and development funds for a mobile missile.

Cranston has voted consistently against any production funding for the MX; however, like Hart and Hollings, he has voted for research and development funds.

While Mondale is opposed to the MX today, he supported it in 1980 when it was part of the Carter administration military buildup. In an Oct. 26, 1980, interview, for example, he said:

"In all aspects of our American defense structure, we have improved our posture, and we're going to continue to improve . . . . We have made a sound and solid decision on the MX, which will be the best of its kind."

Hollings also appears to have flip-flopped on the MX. While he supported Carter on the missile, in 1982, he offered, with all of the others' support, an unsuccessful amendment to prohibit MX procurement funds until Congress had approved the basing mode.

In a lame-duck session, Hollings led Senate conferees in opposing the MX "Dense Pack" production funds. On another vote, with Glenn absent, the other three voted against the successful compromise by Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.) to delay MX procurement until a presidential commission recommended, and Congress approved, a new basing mode.

Finally, in 1982, Glenn offered an amendment to kill funds for MX and authorize a lesser amount for a substitute missile system. He was supported in that unsuccessful effort by all of the other candidates except Hollings, who was absent.

There is more of a split among the Democratic contenders on the B1 bomber. Glenn is for it, saying in his defense essay, "We need the B1 bomber, because the aging B52s will not last forever and the 'Stealth' is too far in the future and technically too uncertain to depend upon today."

Cranston also favors the B1, which is being built in California, although he didn't mention it in the statement he gave The Post. Hollings now opposes it, but on three votes in 1977 and 1978, he, along with Cranston and Glenn, voted against attempts to kill production funds. In 1979, however, Hollings changed after Congress was presented evidence that the B1 would be vulnerable to Soviet countermeasures within three years of production. In 1981, Hollings led an unsuccessful effort to delete funding for the B1. Hart has always opposed the B1.

Another area of change involves Reagan's recent proposals for space-based laser weapons to defend against Soviet bomber and missile attacks. In 1980, Hollings was the only one who supported an unsuccessful attempt by Sen. Malcolm Wallop (R-Wyo.) to add $160 million for development of such "Star Wars" weapons. A year later, all four supported a Wallop amendment to authorize $50 million for research and development of such weapons.

Another topic of debate may be chemical weapons. In 1980, only Glenn among the four senators supported an amendment to spend $3.1 million to start construction of a factory for chemical weapons in Pine Bluff, Ark. Cranston and Hart were opposed; Hollings, absent. In 1981, Cranston and Hart tried to kill $20 million for the factory, while Glenn and Hollings supported it. In 1982, Glenn opposed Hart's amendment (supported by Cranston) to delete $54 million for production of those weapons. Hollings was absent.