President Reagan today renewed his appeal to Congress to release $14 million in aid to rebels fighting the Sandinista government of Nicaragua, saying, "The federal government these days spends $14 million every few minutes."
"So we're asking Congress for just a few minutes worth of help for the democratic forces of Nicaragua," Reagan said. "Fourteen million dollars means very little to us. But it's a whole world to them."
Reagan said he has received "encouraging reaction" to last week's proposal linking the aid to church-mediated negotiations between "freedom fighters" and the Sandinista regime, which has rejected the overture.
Reagan quoted a laudatory letter from Salvadoran President Jose Napoleon Duarte, but did not respond to criticism of the plan from Sen. David F. Durenberger (R-Minn.), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, who likened it to "an apple with a razor blade in it" and predicted congressional rejection of the plan.
Seeking to win release of the aid, Reagan announced Thursday that he would offer not to use it for military aid to the "contra" rebels for two months if the Sandinistas agreed to talks with the insurgents.
Reagan said "more than a dozen countries have already expressed their support," but except for Colombia and El Salvador, he did not identify them.
If released by Congress, Reagan said, the $14 million would "go immediately for medicine, food and clothing and other support to help these . . . families survive." However, the money could revert to military aid after two months if the talks proved unproductive.
"We put forth an olive branch" in the proposal, Reagan said from his ranch northwest of here.
Reagan also used his address to again express satisfaction with the deficit-reduction package he agreed to with the Senate Republican leadership last week.
The package includes limits on Social Security cost-of-living adjustments, which would be cut roughly in half if current economic assumptions prevail.
The overall deficit package, reducing deficits by almost $300 billion over three years, "provides the foundation for historic progress because those deficits will be wiped out without raising taxes a nickel, without jeopardizing vital defense programs or any essential services," he said.