An impatient House of Representatives yesterday voted 214 to 194 to restrict debate on the controversial nuclear freeze resolution after behind-the-scenes efforts to reach a bipartisan compromise failed.
Rep. Jim Jones (D-Okla.) offered to sponsor an amendment providing for weapons reductions as well as a freeze, which is what opponents of the freeze want, but was talked out of it by pro-freeze Democrats who argued that it would allow Republicans to claim victory in the increasingly politicized debate over arms control strategy.
"We're dancing on the head of a semantic pin," said a frustrated Jones. "I want to reach a compromise, but the far left and the far right are lodged in semantic cement. This should not be a partisan issue."
The merry-go-round of arguments that have worn out parties on both sides during more than 35 hours of debate since last month narrowed down to the issue of whether the resolution should call for a freeze followed by weapons reductions, as it does now, or for a freeze and reductions as Republicans and conservative Democrats want.
The vote on that issue could go either way, both sides acknowledge, depending on the parliamentary procedure. Freeze opponents have come within a handful of votes of getting their version on several tries. Nonetheless, for many House members, anxious for an opportunity to register distaste for the arms race, the distinction seems irrelevant.
"The American people are tired of rhetoric, of gamesmanship, of partisanship," said Rep. Leon E. Panetta (D-Calif.) in a speech applauded by colleagues. "All they want an expression of concern about the arms race." As sponsored by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Clement J. Zablocki (D-Wis.) and more than 200 House members, the freeze resolution calls on the United States and the Soviet Union to negotiate "an immediate mutual and verifiable freeze" on production, development and deployment of nuclear weapons.
President Reagan opposes the freeze, arguing that it would undercut his bargaining position at the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) in Geneva, in which he has called for a bilateral reduction of nuclear weapons while building up the U.S. strategic arsenal to offset what he perceives as the Soviet advantage.
A freeze at current levels, the administration argues, would freeze in the Soviet advantage.
The amendment to cut off debate affected only the main body of the resolution, so opponents could seek to add new sections. It also did not affect more than 25 pending amendments which are entitled to 10 minutes of debate each, and roll call votes.
Thus, when the House takes up the resolution again Wednesday or Thursday, the anti-freeze talkathon could continue for days.
"We're not going to roll over and let them stick it to us," said Republican Whip Trent Lott of Mississippi.
However, both Lott and House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) predicted the freeze resolution ultimately will pass the House. "I don't believe they can talk it to death," O'Neill said. "Eighty percent of the American people wants a freeze."
A key amendment that would have allowed the United States to deploy Pershing II and cruise missiles in Europe during a freeze was deflected by a Zablocki substitute saying that the intermediate-range missiles could be deployed only before a freeze.