The House signaled a major disagreement with President Reagan's arms control policies yesterday by urging an immediate resumption of negotiations with the Soviet Union on a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty.
The joint resolution, approved by a vote of 268 to 148, is not binding on the administration. It does, however, place both houses of Congress on record as rejecting the administration's contentions that deep cuts in nuclear weapons should be achieved before a test ban is discussed, and that such bans are of limited value because they are virtually impossible to verify adequately.
The GOP-controlled Senate approved similar language in 1984 on a vote of 77 to 22.
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has been pressing Reagan to follow his lead in banning all nuclear tests. In a major speech on Tuesday, Gorbachev suggested that the timing of another summit meeting with Reagan should be tied to progress on a test ban treaty or nuclear weapons pact.
Referring to Gorbachev's speech and call for a moratorium, opponents of the measure argued heatedly during the four hours of debate that the primary purpose of the resolution was to "embarrass" the president.
Rep. Robert S. Walker (R-Pa.) rhetorically challenged supporters of the measure to show where their proposal was "substantially different from the Soviet negotiating position."
Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) claimed approval of the resolution would "reward" Gorbachev for his criticism of Reagan's latest arms control proposals in his speech to the Soviet party congress.
"The Soviets are doing something very un-Soviet" by urging resumption of talks, countered one of the bill's supporters, Rep. Thomas J. Downey (D-N.Y.). "Let's hold them to the test. Let's call their bluff."
The critical vote came on a Reagan-backed substitute resolution proposed by Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) that would have urged resumption of comprehensive test ban talks only after completion of negotiations on arms reductions.
It was defeated, 258 to 158. After that, the resolution was passed.
In addition to urging resumption of these talks, the measure approved yesterday also asks the president to request Senate ratification of two treaties signed in the mid-1970s by U.S. presidents but never acted upon by the Senate.
A central feature of both treaties -- the Threshold Test Ban Treaty and the Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty -- would be bans on underground nuclear explosions with forces of 150 kilotons or more.
Supporters of the measures included in the resolution approved yesterday contend that a test ban is one certain way to slow the arms race by, among other things, inhibiting the modernization of current nuclear arsenals.
Yesterday's vote marked the second time in three months that the administration has been rebuffed on an arms control issue.
Last December, Congress imposed a moratorium on U.S. tests of anti-satellite weapons against orbiting targets.
The resolution approved yesterday initially was proposed in January 1985 and scheduled for debate in October. But action was postponed at the request of Secretary of State George P. Shultz, and in deference to Reagan's summit meeting in Geneva with Gorbachev.
The United States and the Soviet Union began talks toward a comprehensive test ban treaty in 1977 but they broke off following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. In 1982, President Reagan announced that he would not resume such negotiations for the present.