The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, sharply divided along party lines, yesterday voted, 10 to 6, to reject President Reagan's request for $28 million in military aid next year to contras, or counterrevolutionaries, fighting the leftist government of Nicaragua.
The panel also voted, 9 to 7, to kill a GOP-sponsored proposal to provide $28 million in humanitarian assistance, with Rep. Dan Daniel (D-Va.) siding with the Republicans, according to lawmakers at the closed meeting.
Some committee Democrats said they support providing carefully restricted humanitarian aid to the rebels, but believe that it is "premature" to vote on the 1986 aid when it appears the House may revive humanitarian aid for 1985.
Holding off on 1986 aid gives the committee the chance to see how well humanitarian aid can be implemented, whether it is really military assistance in another guise and whether it will prompt Nicaragua's Sandinista government to implement some democratic reforms.
The committee yesterday cast a straight party-line vote in favor of continuing to prohibit the CIA or other intelligence agencies from providing support "directly or indirectly" for "military or paramilitary operations" in Nicaragua.
Republican members of the committee angrily criticized the votes. Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) characterized them as "unwise, imprudent and, after I use my vocabulary of mild words, stupid."
The votes came two weeks after the Democratic-controlled House voted to deny the administration any aid for the contras this year.
Lawmakers have said that since then the mood has shifted, in part because of Democratic embarrassment over Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's recent trip to Moscow. It appears that although the House is still against military aid to the contras it probably would support some form of humanitarian assistance for this year.
The administration has indicated that it will make a new effort to revive 1985 funding for the rebels. House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) has drafted legislation to provide humanitarian aid through the CIA to the rebels and is expected to try to force a vote on the issue in the next two weeks.
At the same time, a group of conservative and moderate Democrats has introduced a bill that would provide humanitarian aid through the State Department. And the Democratic leadership, which opposes aid to the contras and supports refugee assistance instead, is working on drafting an alternative or a series of amendments to weaken any aid proposals.
Intelligence Committee Chairman Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.) said yesterday's votes "mean that the majority of the committee remains opposed to military aid to the contras" and feels that humanitarian aid "really is not in the jurisdiction of the committee."
Rep. Robert W. Kastenmeier (D-Wis.) said he and some others on the committee had opposed all aid because "aid to the contras is aid to armies in the field. Humanitarian aid, I think, is a code word."
One GOP member of the committee said the Republicans expected to lose the votes yesterday -- the panel has consistently opposed military aid to the rebels -- but they "just wanted to make the case."
The votes occurred as the committee finished work in the 1986 intelligence authorization, which provides funding for the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and part of the FBI.
Committee members said that they scaled back Reagan's request for the intelligence community but that, aside from Nicaragua, there were few other disputes between panel Democrats and Republicans.
The final vote on the bill is expected next Tuesday and members said it is unlikely that they will revisit the Nicaragua question.