Two competing plans to provide aid to Nicaraguan rebels were made public yesterday after days of negotiations between the House Republican leadership and moderate and conservative House Democrats failed to produce agreement on a common approach.
The plans, one backed by the GOP leadership and the White House and the other by a Democratic group headed by Rep. Dave McCurdy (Okla.), are to be considered by the House next week in the third and possibly decisive test of President Reagan's Central America policy.
In two House showdowns earlier this year, the administration failed to win approval of Reagan's proposal to provide $70 million in military aid and $30 million in nonlethal "humanitarian" assistance to the counterrevolutionaries known as contras.
Negotiations between House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) and a key group of swing lawmakers headed by McCurdy collapsed over whether a second congressional vote should be scheduled later this year before the bulk of the military aid is released.
The deadlock appeared to leave the White House facing an uphill struggle to gain House passage of the president's aid package.
The administration wants the full $100 million made available immediately, while McCurdy and other Democrats who support contra assistance insist that more time be allowed for negotiations on the contras' conflict with Nicaragua's leftist Sandinista government.
If negotiations failed, Congress would vote again in October on release of most of the $70 million in military aid, under the McCurdy plan.
Michel, accompanied by Reps. Buddy Roemer (D-La.), Mickey Edwards (R-Okla.) and Richard B. Ray (D-Ga.), met yesterday with national security affairs adviser John M. Poindexter. An aide to Michel said Poindexter expressed administration support for the House Republican alternative.
The GOP plan calls for immediate release of $40 million, including about $28 million in military aid that could not be used to acquire "heavy weapons." A $20 million installment would be given the contras Oct. 15 and $40 million, including funds for heavy weapons, next Feb. 15.
Congress could block the final payment with a disapproval resolution subject to a veto by Reagan.
The McCurdy plan would make $30 million available on enactment but limit military assistance to funds needed for training. If peace negotiations failed, Congress could vote to release the remaining funds on or after Oct. 1, immediately providing $25 million, then three installments of $15 million every 90 days.
Both plans would provide additional economic assistance to Nicaragua's immediate neighbors -- Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Costa Rica. The Republican proposal calls for $300 million and the McCurdy plan $325 million in economic aid.
McCurdy also reached agreement with the House Democratic leadership to have his proposal incorporated into an $11 billion military construction appropriations bill scheduled for consideration Wednesday.
This tactic, if approved by the full House, would improve chances that the McCurdy plan will clear the House and be sent to the Senate.
The GOP contra-aid package and a liberal Democratic proposal that would provide only funds for refugee relief are expected to be offered as floor amendments in place of the McCurdy proposal.
In an interview yesterday, Alfonso Robelo, a top leader of the United Nicaraguan Opposition (UNO), said the second-vote provision of the McCurdy proposal is "an absolute disaster for us" because troops inside Nicaragua lack ammunition and other supplies and would have to withdraw into Honduras before the vote.
Meanwhile, the Sandinista government scheduled a news conference in Managua today amid reports that it will announce willingness to sign the Contadora plan for a regional peace agreement. Nicaragua's Democratic neighbors have expressed concern about the current Contadora draft.
Staff writer Joanne Omang contributed to this report.