House Democratic leaders, frustrated at the Senate's stall over arms-control legislation, plan to insist on arms constraints in a long-delayed catchall spending bill in hopes of forcing the Senate to deal with the issue.
"We intend to hang tough in conference," said House Democratic Whip Tony Coelho (D-Calif.).
Other sources said the Democratic leadership has decided that House negotiators in a conference with the Senate on the spending bill should send the bill back to the two chambers in disagreement over arms control if a compromise is not possible in the conference.
This strategy could force the Senate to vote on adherence to SALT II weapons limits, and possibly on a nuclear test ban, as the price for passage of a nearly $10 billion "urgent" supplemental appropriations bill for the rest of this fiscal year, including funding for farm subsidies and scores of other federal programs that are running out of money.
Even if the Senate were to agree to the provisions, considered uncertain, their inclusion in the spending bill would almost certainly prompt a veto by President Reagan that could not be overridden by Congress.
But House leaders said the exercise is important in building a case for eventual action on arms control, possibly this fall in connection with an omnibus spending bill for next year.
Both as part of this year's spending bill and a defense authorization bill for next year, the House has approved language that would force the administration back into compliance with the unratified SALT II treaty and require observance of a nuclear test ban so long as the Soviet Union abstains from testing. It also voted as part of the defense bill to bar Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) testing that would violate the 1972 Antiballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.
But the Senate Appropriations Committee struck the SALT II and test-ban language from the spending bill, and Senate Republicans have blocked consideration of SDI restrictions in the Senate's version of the defense bill, effectively thwarting Senate action on all arms-control fronts.
While the House is insisting on both arms-control provisions in the spending bill, some sources indicated the real fight would come over the SALT II language, largely because it holds out the greatest prospect for congressional accord. As of yesterday, 50 senators -- one short of the number needed for enactment -- have signed on as cosponsors of legislation to require a return to compliance with the treaty.
But Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) said yesterday that, even if the Senate passed SALT II compliance provisions, he is confident that the Senate would "easily" muster the 34 votes necessary to sustain a veto.