The proposed congressional nuclear freeze resolution has become a lush garden of sprawling verbiage where only a legislator could find a rose.
Scarcely a phrase of the original 750-word proposal went untouched, or unretouched, by the House of Representatives over two months of debate before the measure passed this week, 278 to 149. But so intricate were the graftings and prunings and transplants that both critics and supporters now claim the hybrid as their own.
Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.), both freeze advocates, asked President Reagan to join them in endorsing the text when it comes up in the Senate, noting that House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) had claimed it as a victory.
"If indeed it is a victory for the administration position, it is also a victory for the American people," they wrote.
The two senators, seeking to avoid a potentially lengthy delay while the Foreign Relations Committee studies the matter, also asked Republican and Democratic leaders yesterday to hold the resolution "at the desk" when it comes over from the House. This parliamentary tactic, used in the past to preserve civil rights legislation from predatory committee action, would put the proposal directly on the Senate calendar, bypassing the committee.
The committee could still debate the issue but would have no control over the resolution.
Backers insist that in spite of the proliferation of words, amendments and amended amendments, which nearly doubled the resolution's length, the final product retains their central point: that arms production and deployment should first be frozen on a bilateral basis, and that arms reductions should be negotiated afterward. Those who fought the original text said they bored holes in it big enough to stuff new weapons through if that should prove necessary.
As a result, the text contains sentences such as these:
* "Any item both sides do not agree to freeze would not be frozen."
* "Nothing in this resolution shall be construed by U.S. negotiators to mandate any agreement that would jeopardize our ability to preserve freedom."
* "Submarines are not delivery vehicles as used herein."
* "Consistent with pursuing the overall objective . . . nothing in this resolution should be construed to prevent measures necessary for the maintenance of and credibility of the United States nuclear deterrent."
An aide to Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a leading freeze advocate, said the first two were examples of "meaningless, dilatory" amendments offered in the hope that the House would tire of debating them. "We fooled 'em; we accepted them," he said.
The fourth item started out as a crippling amendment that would have allowed "modernization" of the deterrent, a code word meaning new weaponry, the aide said. "We substituted 'maintenance,' our own code word to indicate the current operating level and not something new," he explained.
Markey said his side agreed to "saying four more times what we'd already said eight times"--that the freeze had to be mutual with the Soviet Union. The final result, he added, was "99.9 percent of what we were looking for."
But Rep. Elliott H. Levitas (D-Ga.) claimed that modernization is implicitly allowed by the sentence that leaves unfrozen all things that both sides do not freeze. The critics' major victory, he said, was his amendment tying the freeze to arms reductions, as Reagan had sought.
The resolution requires that reductions in arms be achieved within "a reasonable specified period of time" for the freeze to remain, and thus "changes the symbolism of the freeze in a fundamental way," Levitas said. Noting that a number of Democrats also had voted for his proposal, Levitas added, "The beauty of my amendment is obviously in the eye of the beholder."
Another important section would allow modernization and deployment until "the final instrument embodying the objectives" of the resolution--whatever that is--is ratified by both the United States and the Soviet Union.
There were a few anxious moments over another section that said, carefully, that the resolution cannot either prevent or require that U.S. negotiators agree to limit modernization of "dual-capable delivery systems," those designed to carry both conventional and nuclear weaponry.
Critics had feared that passage would freeze even trucks big enough to carry bombs. They were mollified, but the entire section was missing from one unofficial, much scribbled-on and dogeared text that circulated widely in photocopy form during the 40 hours before the House machinery managed to produce a printed version yesterday afternoon. There was brief panic in at least one House office over whether the provision had been killed.
Senate backers are hoping for floor action before the July 4 recess and for a close vote at best, because the Republicans are still considered hostile even to the hybrid text.