The Senate Armed Services Committee has authorized $130.1 million to go into nerve gas production, assuring a series of congressional floor fights on the issue in the coming weeks. The House recently voted down nerve gas money.
President Reagan has been pressing for funds to build a nerve gas plant in Pine Bluff, Ark., on grounds that the Soviet threat demands modernizing the U.S. arsenal of chemical weapons. The nerve gas would be packed into 155 mm artillery shells in two compartments, hence the name "binary" munitions.
Sen. David H. Pryor (D-Ark.), whose state would be home to the nerve gas facilities, is sponsoring an amendment to delete production funds from the fiscal 1984 defense authorization bill to be voted upon after the July 4 congressional recess. He argues that the Pentagon has more than enough nerve gas in storage now and that to produce more would just accelerate the arms race.
Chairman John G. Tower (R-Tex.) of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in outlining the authorization bill his committee finished Tuesday night, said yesterday that the nerve gas provisions would encounter stiff challenge on the Senate floor. If the Reagan administration should win on the issue there, the next fight would come in the House-Senate conference called to work out a compromise defense authorization bill.
Tower and other advocates of nerve gas production were encouraged by the fact that House opponents won by only 14 votes this year compared to a 51-vote margin in 1982.
In approving a bill authorizing $199.9 billion for the Pentagon, of which $186 billion is to develop, buy and operate weapons, the committee approved $188.7 million to buy the rest of the 100 bombers in the B1 fleet under a single authorization and to wipe out production of the Grumman A6E attack plane.
Opponents of multiyear B1 production contend that it is too early for Congress to write the Air Force a blank check for the bomber. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said he and other opponents of multiyear production would have prevailed within the Armed Services Committee if it were not for the White House Office of Management and Budget, which announced at the last minute that there would be $2.1 billion more than anticipated available for defense because of new and lower estimates of inflation.
OMB spokesman Edwin L. Dale said the office had been working since April on the inflation estimates sent to Tower this week. "It took time to translate the April update in defense deflators," he said. "The Pentagon took time to sign off, and the president had to agree."
The committee's rationale for suspending A6E production was that too few are being produced, six a year, to achieve a reasonable price for the plane. Rep. Samuel S. Stratton (D-N.Y.), third-ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee which approved the A6E procurement, said last night that "it would be tragedy for the Navy" to shut down that line, because the plane "is the only all-weather" one on duty. He said he would fight in the House-Senate conference for continuing A6E production.
The Senate committee approved $2.44 billion to buy the first 27 MX missiles, another action expected to be challenged on the floor after the July 4 recess. Reagan intends to deploy 100 MXs in Minuteman silos, contending that the Soviet Union must be confronted with some of the same silo-busting capability that it has developed.