The Reagan administration is trying to avert a House vote on the AWACS sale prior to a vote in the Senate. The President's only hope for mustering congressional support for this sale lies in the Senate, as the White House long has acknowledged. (The Administration needs the concurrence of only one chamber of Congress to go ahead with the sale.)
"Yet," one administration official says, "if, as expected, the House comes in with a lopsided vote against us, and it comes just before the Senate vote -- it could be devastating. The pyschological effect could really damage our prospects of winning in the Senate."
Rep. Clement J. Zablocki (D) of Wisconsin chairs the House Foreign Affairs committee, which will begin to consider the sale on Oct. 1.
Congressman Zablocki has the power to hold back the committee report from the full House vote, and the Reagan administration has been urging to keep it bottled up until the Senate is ready to vote on the sale, probably not before the third week of October.
However, it is understood from White House aides that Zablocki has said he can't hold his committee's report back that long -- that, as of now, he thinks he will have to move his committee's report out early in October, probably in time for a full House vote on Oct. 13.
But the administration hasn't given up on persuading Zablocki to delay his committee action until the Senate can vote. And, apparently, Zablocki, who is believed to be supportive of the sale, has shown himself willing to hold up the report longer if he can find "justification" for so doing.
By this, Zablocki means he needs assurances that there are 100 to 120 of the 191 House Republicans who are committed to backing the President on the sale.
That is, he must be able to show that any holdup on the report on his part is based on the need for longer consideration of the issue because of a sizeable amount of support from House members.
Can the White House come up with assurance that that many Republicans will back AWACS? At this point it hasn't made a firm count. "But," as one administration official put it, "That's the price we will have to pay in order to get that House vote delayed."