House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) said yesterday that Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's trip to Moscow just after the House refused to aid Nicaraguan rebels had "embarrassed" lawmakers and that sentiment may be shifting toward resuming assistance to the insurgents.
"He embarrassed us, to be perfectly truthful," O'Neill said, suggesting that some Democrats had come under fire at home because of Ortega's trip and might vote differently next time.
The Reagan administration is expected to renew its push for rebel funding soon, arguing that pressure must be maintained to move the leftist Sandinista government of Nicaragua toward democracy.
While a majority of the House remains opposed to providing the military aid that President Reagan wants, O'Neill said many Democrats now think that the House would vote to provide some form of "nonlethal" or humanitarian aid to the rebels, who are trying to overthrow Ortega's government. Nonlethal aid is defined to include clothing, food and medicine, but not weapons or ammunition.
The principal issues are whether the aid will be limited to food, medicine and clothing or include such items as trucks, boots and other nonlethal equipment needed by an army; whether it will be distributed through the Central Intelligence Agency, an international organization like the Red Cross or some other unit; and whether rebels or noncombatants will receive the funds.
Another issue is whether language barring military funding through intelligence units will be added.
The Senate voted to approve a modified version of Reagan's nonlethal aid plan two weeks ago. Conservative Democrats who provided the margin for passage are planning to bring up another version of it within the next two weeks, according to Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Tex.).
He and four other senators have cosponsored a joint resolution to provide $14 million in "food, clothing, medicine and other humanitarian assistance" to the rebels while urging Reagan to take steps he promised the Senate he would take if his earlier proposal passed.
Those include resuming bilateral talks with Nicaragua, urging the rebels to curb human rights abuses and suspending military exercises in the region if Nicaragua observes a cease-fire and begins a dialogue with the rebels.
House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) offered a package of $14 million in nonlethal aid to the "contras," but the House narrowly defeated it two weeks ago.
"I don't believe in giving any aid to the contras, but a lot of our members think there are the votes for the Michel bill," O'Neill said.
House Majority Leader James C. Wright Jr. (D-Tex.) predicted that "something along that line will pass" when the issue comes up again.
Wright said, "People are displeased with him Ortega that he would go to Russia and flaunt the fact that the Congress refused to send military aid" to the rebels.
The Democratic-controlled House voted overwhelmingly two weeks ago to deny any kind of aid this year. A few days later, Ortega went to Moscow in search of $200 million in assistance.
Michel's proposal was defeated by two votes. Several moderate Democrats who opposed it said they would have supported it had they known in advance no other aid proposal would pass.
House Republican officials and lawmakers said they may try to press for another vote this week or next. However, they have not worked out what their proposal would be.
Republican lawmakers and officials said yesterday it is possible they will try to attach a package to a fiscal year 1985 supplemental spending bill that is expected on the House floor at the end of this month.
The Republicans are looking at attaching an amendment to the fiscal year 1986 State Department or foreign aid legislation awaiting floor action this week or next, but that would apply only to money for next year.
The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence is scheduled to vote today on the Reagan administraton's 1986 proposed budget for the intelligence community, which requests $28 million in military aid to the CIA-backed rebels next year.
The Democratic leadership has held several meetings in anticipation of a new Republican effort to revive aid to the rebels but has not decided what to do, Democrats said.
However, several Democratic sources said the leadership does not want to press ahead with anything yet because of the anger caused by Ortega's trip.
Meanwhile, White House communications director Patrick J. Buchanan said the House vote "blew a hole in the president's Nicaragua policy, his Central American policy, and replaced it with absolutely nothing." However, he predicted House members would feel the pressure to do something.
"I honestly believe this thing is going our way," he said.
He characterized Nicaragua's leaders as "tough, ruthless people" and said they "are not going to give up power simply because a group of diplomats asked them to do it. They're not going to give it up because they are no longer allowed to sell bananas in the United States."