The House Armed Services Committee yesterday cut $10.5 billion from President Reagan's defense budget in an effort to hold the increase in spending from fiscal 1983 to 1984 to 6 percent after inflation rather than the requested 10 percent.
The committee, which sets ceilings on how much money other congressional committees can appropriate for various Pentagon activities, authorized $188 billion for military research and to purchase tanks, ships, planes and missiles. Other military activities, such as construction, are covered in separate bills.
"The committee has attempted to tailor the authorization bill to Congess' clearly expressed intent to cut defense spending," said Chairman Melvin Price (D-Ill.) in reporting that his panel had voted 41 to 3 for the $10.5 billion reduction. Reps. Ronald V. Dellums (D-Calif.), Dennis M. Hertel (D-Mich.) and Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.) voted against the measure.
The three contended that the cut was not deep enough in light of the House Budget Committee's recommendation to limit the real growth of the defense budget to 4 percent. If the 4 percent ceiling recommendation holds, it will fall to the House Appropriations Committee to take up where the Armed Services Committee left off in making reductions.
The Senate Budget Committee has set a target of 5 percent growth. The administration is pressing for about 7.5 percent.
Price said the major reductions were $5 billion in procurement; $2.8 billion in research and development; $2.1 billion in operations and maintenance of ships, planes and other weapons already on hand; $500 million in personnel, mostly by freezing the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps at their current active duty manpower levels rather than increasing them by 37,300 as Reagan had requested, and $53.5 million in civil defense.
Price said that an additional $600 million would be cut from separate bills authorizing money for military construction and nuclear warheads.
The committee debated heatedly behind closed doors about whether to authorize money for the MX missile, with several members trying to substitute missile submarines for the 100 MXs Reagan intends to deploy in Minuteman holes, and whether to allow veterans to sue laboratories, universities and others for damage inflicted by nuclear weapons testing.
In the end, the president's strategic package, calling for a combination of 100 MX missiles and an undecided number of small Midgetman mobile missiles, was approved. The amendment to make it easier for veterans to sue those who conducted nuclear weapons tests was defeated 21 to l5, according to Hertel, who supported it.
No superweapons were killed. Price said the committee rejected by voice votes amendments to delete money for the Pershing II missile Reagan plans to deploy in Europe and for the B1 bomber. He said an amendment to break the committee's freeze on active duty military personnel was defeated 22 to 6.
The major cuts in procurement included $745 million for the F15 fighter plane; $525 million from the Air Force's spare parts account; $441 million by slowing replacement of KC135 aerial tanker engines; $169 million by canceling the Army light armor vehicle and the Marine Corps derivatives.
The National Guard scored big as the committee raised its manpower ceiling by 6,600 and authorized $852 million for first-line equipment, including 24 F16 fighter planes and $188 million for C130 transports.
The committee refused to go along with the Air Force's long-held plan to stop buying the present Boeing air-launched cruise missile at the end of fiscal 1983 and switch to the advanced Stealth cruise missile, voting to direct the service to buy 240 more Boeing missiles in fiscal 1984.
The Navy shipbuilding budget sailed through the committee virtually unscathed when it came to the number of ships authorized. Only one ship, to counter mines, was struck from the list of 23 requested for fiscal 1984.