House Majority Leader James C. Wright Jr. (D-Tex.), miffed at Reagan administration comments that congressional observers were threatening to turn the Geneva arms talks into a "circus," said yesterday the House has canceled its plans to send a delegation.
"We don't mind being used by the administration if it serves the national purpose," Wright said, "but we don't want to be used and abused at the same time.
"I could not in good conscience ask my colleagues to go to Geneva and suffer these indignities."
He was referring to comments in a Rowland Evans and Robert Novak column Friday that Secretary of State George P. Shultz was "furious" at the size of the congressional delegation to the arms talks and was reported to feel that the lawmakers were turning the talks "into a damned circus."
The columnists also quoted one administration official as saying that Wright had invited "half the members and their wives."
Wright said yesterday he thought the request that wives be allowed to attend was appropriate and "in keeping with normal diplomatic procedures."
"It might be just as valid to ask why are the senators trying to get away without their wives," Wright said.
Wright's announcement came as Reagan sent Congress a report on the troubled MX nuclear missile. The submission of the report triggers a complex process that is expected to result in a vote about March 20 on $1.5 billion for 21 additional MX missiles that Congress had set aside last year.
Reagan is seeking to release the money. The vote is set for about a week after the Geneva talks convene.
Reagan said that, without the MX, the administration faces "substantially lowered" chances of winning arms reductions from the Soviets.
In a speech to the National Association of Counties yesterday, Reagan said "a negative vote in either house would undercut our negotiators and send a message to Moscow that America is an irresolute and divided nation whose divisions can be exploited at Geneva. That must not happen."
MX opponents, gearing up for the showdown in Congress, called the administration's decision to link the vote to the opening of arms talks in Geneva "the last card left in its deck," but admitted that Reagan has made progress on the issue.
"It's a dogfight right now," said Fred Wertheimer, president of Common Cause, a citizen lobby that has helped organize the anti-MX campaign.
Rep. Bill Green (R-N.Y.), another MX opponent, said it is clear to him the administration does not believe it has won the fight, despite assertions by MX supporters that they have enough votes in the House to win.
"They wouldn't be asking me to the White House for breakfast today if they thought they had this thing won," he said.
The Democratic-controlled House had been scheduled to send a bipartisan delegation of 16 official observers, led by Wright, to the arms talks.
Wright said the Democratic leadership agreed to participate to show "we are united in the peace process . . . . It surely wasn't the sense of going on some vacation."
The Republican-led Senate has put together a similarly bipartisan group of 12 members, headed by Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) and Minority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.).
Both groups were expected to spend about week at the talks, which begin March 12, in a mostly ceremonial role.
Congressional officials said yesterday that the lawmakers will not sit in on the talks but will be briefed periodically by administration officials on what is being said.