The Senate refused yesterday to impose limits on President Reagan's Persian Gulf policy by voting, 50 to 41, against invoking the War Powers Resolution to require congressional approval for unlimited deployment of U.S. troops in the war-torn region.
Before the United States began escorting reflagged Kuwaiti tankers through the gulf two months ago, a majority of the Senate went on record several times against the operation, although action to block it was thwarted by Republican filibusters.
But the proposal considered yesterday would have been binding as part of the defense authorization bill for next year, and the Senate appeared reluctant to go that far, prompting charges that it was "turning tail and running" from its responsibilities under the war-powers legislation.
The proposal, sponsored by Sens. Brock Adams (D-Wash.), Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.) and Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.), would have invoked war-powers provisions as of Aug. 25, when the government authorized extra danger pay for armed forces personnel in the Persian Gulf.
Under these provisions, Congress would have to approve continued deployment of forces after 60 to 90 days.
The War Powers Resolution, passed during the Vietnam war to give Congress some control over escalation of undeclared wars, requires the president to start the clock running for congressional action when troops face "imminent involvement in hostilities."
However, Reagan has said the law does not apply to the Persian Gulf.
His supporters in the Senate contended that approval of the Adams-Bumpers-Hatfield proposal would amount to an unwarranted usurpation of presidential powers by Congress and undercut a successful military operation.
Sen. Dan Quayle (R-Ind.) noted that combat-related pay has also been approved for U.S. forces in countries ranging from Peru to Sudan, where no war-powers questions have been raised. Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) said the proposal casts a "fish net on the whole Persian Gulf area," covering not just escort forces but naval forces that have been in the gulf for 40 years.
Disputing contentions that the War Powers Resolution was not intended to cover such conflicts as the Iran-Iraq war in the gulf, Adams contended, "We are proceeding down the track toward war, and that is what the war powers act is meant for."
"There's not one member of this body that doesn't know we're courting disaster in the Persian Gulf . . . that a lot of sons aren't going to come back from the Persian Gulf," Bumpers said.
Hatfield charged that law was being bent to fit policy, which he described as "hypocrisy" for a country that claims to have a government based on law. "Here's a demonstrated example of turning tail and running," he added.
The victory for Reagan on the Persian Gulf came only a day after the Senate, defying veto threats by the president, voted to restrict testing and development for his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI).
In a letter to Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.), Reagan expressed "profound disappointment" and characterized the testing curbs as "unilateral restrictions on the United States that are not enforceable on the Soviet Union." He said the Senate's action could "undermine prospects for achieving effective strategic defense" and reiterated his intention to veto the defense bill if it includes the provision in its final form.