House Armed Services Chairman Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.) abandoned his proposal to create a new subcommittee on defense policy yesterday, saying he wanted to avoid a "divisive" struggle between two members seeking to succeed him as chairman of another subcommittee.

After a private meeting with committee Democrats, Aspin told reporters that if he had created the defense policy subcommittee and been forced to leave his position as chairman of the subcommittee on military personnel and compensation, "it would have precipitated a battle . . . that I thought would have been divisive." Aspin said he would instead form a defense policy panel, something other congressmen said would have less clout than a subcommittee.

Committee members can only chair one subcommittee, and Aspin would have had to relinquish his post as chairman of the military personnel subcommittee to take on a new chairmanship. Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.) was next in line in seniority for a subcommittee chairmanship.

But Schroeder was opposed by conservatives and members who were angry over the role she played in Aspin's successful fight to replace Rep. Melvin Price (D-Ill.) as committee chairman. Rep. Beverly B. Byron (D-Md.) decided to challenge Schroeder, and committee members were predicting a bitter battle.

Schroeder said she was "delighted" by Aspin's decision. "No more blood needs to be spilled," she said.

Byron said she had the votes to win. "The fact that he [Aspin] did not bring it to a vote shows that he knew that Byron had the votes," said Byron spokeswoman Peggy Costion.

Following Aspin's decision, Byron gave up her position on the personnel subcommittee to switch to the investigations subcommittee. She is also on the procurement and military nuclear systems subcommittee.