Congress seems to be gaining the upper hand in its wrestling match with the administration over aid to El Salvador. Significant concessions may be on the way from the White House.
In the view of Rep. Clarence D. Long, the key subcommittee chairman involved in the battle over the ''reprogramming'' of military aid for El Salvador, this may be one of those rare instances where the Congress actually ends up helping to shape foreign policy. A yes or no from the Maryland Democrat could go far to make or break the administration's El Salvador policy at this point.
''Without this money, there is no policy,'' said an aide to Representative Long, speaking of the $60 million President Reagan proposes to take from existing appropriations for other nations in order to provide additional military aid to El Salvador. ''Reprogramming'' is the term used for such shifting of already appropriated funds.
In Long, the administration faces a tough, demanding veteran of legislative wars. On the one hand, the congressman wants to give the administration the benefit of the doubt.But on the other hand, he feels the administration's Salvador policy is leading nowhere and would like to see important changes. He now thinks he may be getting them.
The craggy Long wants to see the confirmation of such changes in writing, however. He says that in an appearance before his subcommittee on March 16, Secretary of State George Shultz stated goals and principles which conformed more closely to his own ideas and those of some of his colleagues. But Long wants to see more detail, and Mr. Shultz has promised to provide it in a memo. Shultz's words welcomed by Long
At the subcommittee hearing, Shultz seemed to place more emphasis on political and economic answers to El Salvador's problems, and that was music to Long's ears. The congressman has laid down five conditions that he believes should be met before Congress approves more aid to El Salvador:
1. A broadening of the Salvadorean political process to bring in groups now in exile, including Social and Christian Democrats left out of the last election.
2. Dramatic improvements in human rights, including the conviction and punishment of offenders by both courts martial and civilian courts.