President Reagan's remodeled request for aid to "contra" rebels fighting the Nicaraguan government will not pass the House in its current form, House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) said yesterday.
The announcement, made after Michel and Senate Majority Whip Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.) met with President Reagan for an hour, appeared to signal a possible turning point in Reagan's approach to Nicaragua's leftist Sandinista government.
White House officials indicated that they might be amenable to a compromise. "We're always mindful of legislative reality," spokesman Larry Speakes said.
Michel told reporters that the language in the current proposal is a barrier to passage. The pending resolution, on which no amendments are allowed, would provide unspecified funding "for the support, directly or indirectly, of military or paramilitary operations in Nicaragua."
Reagan has pledged to use $14 million for food, clothing and medicine while the Sandinistas negotiate toward new elections, but he retains the option of converting it to military aid if talks bog down after 60 days.
"We need some [legislative] language that probably is more consistent with what the president's statement was," Michel said. "People are saying, 'We're voting for something I'm not for and taking the president's word for it that it really means something else.' We're not inclined to do that."
Michel noted that Reagan remained committed to the original proposal and added that he would try "to get something to keep it from failing," perhaps by negotiating with Democrats "of a more moderate persuasion" about possible substitute language.
House Majority Leader James C. Wright Jr. (D-Tex.), a firm opponent of the covert aid, said alternative proposals are being arranged, but Rep. Michael D. Barnes (D-Md.) said no decision has been made as to whether an alternative would be offered.
Michel said House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) "has definitely put his feet in concrete on this issue," but he indicated that not all House Democrats agreed with the speaker. "If there's some movement on the other side, we've got to talk about how we capitalize on that movement," Michel said.
Simpson, agreeing with other senators' estimates, said the Senate probably would narrowly approve Reagan's initiative as it stands.
The White House made public the nonclassified section of the report to Congress by which Reagan formally requested the covert aid. It appears to rule out a policy of containment through bolstering Nicaragua's neighbors, noting that effective action would be very expensive and calling it "obviously deficient in that it is passive and does not contemplate changes in Sandinista behavior."
Reagan continued to press hard for the covert-aid package. He told a group of business leaders that, if members of Congress reject the program, "they will be sending a message of desertion, a clear statement that the greatest democracy on earth doesn't care if communism snuffs out the freedom of our neighbors and endangers our own security."
Officials said the House and Senate are likely to vote on the proposal next Tuesday.
Reagan earlier told a group of religious leaders that he had received a vocal message from Pope John Paul II "urging us to continue our efforts in Central America." He did not elaborate. Reagan wrote to the pope April 5 asking for his advice, White House officials said.
Reagan charged that the Sandinistas "harass Jews" and commit "organized coercion and brutality and terror" against religious people in Nicaragua.
"You can judge any new government, any new regime by whether or not it allows religion to flourish," Reagan said. "If it doesn't, you can be sure it's an enemy of mankind, for it is attempting to ban what is most beautiful in the human heart."
Meanwhile, McGeorge Bundy, national security affairs adviser to President John F. Kennedy, told a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Western Hemisphere affairs that the covert-aid program "simply will not work" to make the Sandinistas change their policies to Reagan's satisfaction but instead is "a most powerful reinforcement" of the current government.
Former U.N. ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick told the hearing that Nicaragua is a security threat to the United States because "it is being rapidly integrated into the Soviet world system." She said support for the antigovernment rebels is support for "contra-tyrannists."
Speaking later at a dinner given in her honor by the American Security Council Foundation and the Coalition for Peace Through Strength, Kirkpatrick said the congressional votes would "affect the fate of Nicaragua, the stability of Nicaragua's democratic neighbors . . . the evolution of other countries in the region and the security of the United States . . . . "
She said it makes "no sense at all -- no moral, political, intellectual or strategic sense -- to refuse to provide help for the Nicaraguan freedom fighters today."
Earlier, the State Department denied published reports that Colombian President Belisario Betancur was misled into endorsing Reagan's plan earlier this month as "positive and constructive." The New York Times report quoted Betancur as saying in Bogota that including covert aid was "a preparation for war."
A department spokesman said Betancur received "a full explanation" of the initiative and a written brief. "We were satisfied that he understood exactly what we had in mind," the spokesman said. CAPTION: Picture, Simpson and Michel see reporters after they met Reagan on $14 million request for "contras." By Fred Sweets -- The Washington Post