President Reagan, who delivered a nationally televised address last week on the defense budget, is expected to deliver another television address soon as part of an intensified White House effort to sell his proposed $100 million package of aid for the Nicaraguan rebels, White House officials said yesterday.
Reagan is expected to kick off the campaign on Monday by meeting leaders of the Nicaraguan contras, or counterrevolutionaries, in the Oval Office. The televised speech could come within the next few weeks, officials said.
White House officials met yesterday to map strategy for the next two weeks. The $27 million in humanitarian assistance to the rebels approved last year expires March 31, and Reagan is seeking congressional approval for $70 million in military assistance and $30 million in nonlethal aid to the rebels for the next 18 months.
Congressional leaders in both parties have said Reagan's proposal faces strong opposition, particularly to the military part of it. Republican polls suggest that most Americans do not consider aid to the Nicaraguan rebels a priority issue.
Congressional sources critical of the aid proposal said their strategy is to push the request through both houses of Congress as fast as possible. "Reagan wants an up or down vote; we'll give it to him," said one key House staff member.
Both sides agree that Reagan's request would be defeated if a vote were taken now. Under expedited procedures written into law, the measure would come to a vote in mid-April at the latest, but other congressional officials said both houses plan to vote by mid-March.
House Republican leaders Robert H. Michel (Ill.) and Dick Cheney (Wyo.) have urged the White House to mount a major campaign for the aid package. Their advice provided the impetus for consideration of another nationally televised address by Reagan soon after last week's defense speech.
One senior White House official said the difficulties facing Reagan's proposal were best approached by personal lobbying, not another public speech. He said experience has shown that the most effective way to advance the proposal in Congress is by meeting with lawmakers.
However, another White House aide said yesterday that the idea of a Reagan speech had "taken on a life of its own" among those who want the president to make a maximum effort on behalf of the proposal. This official said Reagan has not yet approved the idea but is "likely" to do so.
The official said Reagan would also devote upcoming radio addresses to the issue and would continue lobbying members of Congress at the White House.
In an interview Friday, a senior White House official said one approach Reagan intends to take on behalf of the contras is to draw parallels between Nicaragua and recent developments in the Philippines with the ouster of President Ferdinand Marcos in favor of his challenger, Corazon Aquino.
"Seeing what's happened in the Philippines, and all the applause we get, for having 'toppled' a dictator there, why not the same standards down there" in Nicaragua, he asked. "And people were willing to help Aquino any way they could . . . why not the same standards down there? We think that argument will make sense to the American people and to enough people on the Hill."
Reagan began testing this theme last week, linking the "triumph of the people's will" in the Philippines with his goal of pressuring the Sandinista government of Nicaragua toward democratic reforms by aiding the contras.