Congressional conferees, trading pet projects in closed session as they sealed a $302.5 billion defense authorization bill for next year, restored funding for $3.5 billion in weapons procurement and research programs that either the House or Senate had earlier voted to kill, according to budget figures reported yesterday.
The deal-cutting, however, angered many House Democrats who had worked to trim the Pentagon's wish list.
Sixty of them signed a petition yesterday to discuss the bill in the Democratic caucus, and many said they will vote against it on the floor. A caucus meeting was scheduled for Tuesday.
"Our conferees got skunked," Rep. Don Edwards (D-Calif.) said. "The Senate ran away with it."
"The conference is an unconditional surrender for the House," said Rep. Les AuCoin (D-Ore.).
The 39-member conference emerged from its closed sessions Thursday night with a "zero growth" defense spending bill for fiscal 1986, providing an increase in funds just large enough to cover inflation.
But the final package ended up containing funds for 37 of the weapons research and procurement projects eliminated by either chamber in an effort to curb Defense Department spending, restoring most of the major items requested by the administration.
"When it comes to stopping weapons systems that the Pentagon wants," AuCoin said, "Congress always gives in. In terms of dollars and leeway for specific weapons, they were given far more than they deserve."
Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and of the conference, had earlier boasted of the House's elimination of a large number of costly weapons systems. Yesterday, he said, "You can't get your position approved on everything but we came out of the conference with a lot."
But many Democrats disagreed, believing that House conferees capitulated to the Senate in watering down procurement reforms, removing a key condition for production of chemical weapons and restoring funds for certain weapons.
Twenty-two of the 31 procurement and research programs killed in the House, but funded by the Senate, were restored by conferees, including $200 million for the technically troubled Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM), $412 million for P3C Orion antisubmarine warfare patrol plane, $400 million for the E6A communications aircraft and $240 million for the JSTARS airborne, tank-hunting radar.
The House also gave way to the Senate in permitting three tests next year for antisatellite weapons and capping the number of MX missiles at 50, with 12 missiles to be produced next year.
The House had voted to ban antisatellite weapons testing as long as the Soviets observed a similar moratorium, and it voted to allow only 40 MX missiles, with none produced next year.
On President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, popularly known as "Star Wars," conferees authorized spending of $2.75 billion for missile defense research next year with the Pentagon to decide how the money should be spent. The House had limited spending to $2.5 billion and selected the research projects.
One of the conference's most divisive issues was production of chemical weapons, and several House members were left angry that a key condition was bartered away.
The House had voted to authorize $124 million to begin modernization of the the aging U.S. nerve gas stockpiles in 1987 -- it would be the first U.S. production of chemical weapons since 1969 -- if the North Atlantic Council of NATO agreed that European allies would accept deployment.
With the Senate voting for unconditional production of chemical weapons and fearing that the House demand would stir up political opposition in Europe, the conference compromised, directing NATO's supreme commander to "consult" with allied governments before production.
Aspin, aware of the delicate negotiations necessary to get the measure through the House, said yesterday that as part of the deal he demanded the right to present the chemical weapons compromise to the full House for a vote. If the compromise is rejected, he said, the conference will be reopened.
Another lightning rod for House critics was the conference rendering of procurement reforms that had been approved with overwhelming support as a signal of legislative pique with defense contractor abuses and Pentagon inattention.
A House measure designed to stop the "revolving door" situation barred Pentagon officials from working for two years after leaving goverment with any defense contractor whose business they "significantly influenced."
Conferees, reflecting Senate concerns that officials could be deprived of job prospects because of some obscure decision regarding a contractor, voted to narrow the restriction to presidential appointees who are among the "primary" negotiators on any contract.
They would be barred for two years from going to work for the contractor.
Some House members said the compromise fails to regulate the numerous officials in lower jobs who play critical roles in the weapons procurement process.