While United States and Soviet arms negotiators grapple in Geneva, another arms control battle is raging on Capitol Hill. The ongoing struggle pits the Senate and the White House against the House of Representatives in a conflict over nuclear testing, chemical weapons, anti-satellite weapons, and compliance with the never-ratified SALT II arms control treaty. It involves an institutional turf fight as well as a classic clash of ideologies. And it is fueled by an internecine struggle for the chairmanship of the powerful House Armed Services Committee.
It also contains an element of high drama: The proposals represent the boldest attempt yet by House Democrats to overhaul the administration's arms control policies. Three of the House's proposed measures would halt virtually all nuclear-weapons tests, ban the production of new chemical weapons, and slap a one-year moratorium on antisatellite weapons tests. Another measure would force the US strategic and missile bomber force to adhere to the limits of SALT II, which the administration has said it will exceed later this year when cruise missiles are deployed aboard B-52 bombers.
The Senate is set against the House initiatives, which are seen by many senators as an infringement on their constitutionally mandated treaty-making duties. The President vows to veto any bill with such arms control measures; administration officials and many independent analysts see the House proposals as part of a bald effort to expand congressional influence in the formulation of national-security policy.
But the arms control proposals have been written into the House's version of next year's proposed defense budget and may be included this week in the House's version of a giant appropriations bill that provides the actual funds for government programs. So the disputes must be resolved before the federal spending bills for fiscal 1987 can be put into effect.
Fiscal 1987 begins next Wednesday, and the government needs its new spending bills signed and sealed by midnight Tuesday. House and Senate conferees are huddled in conference, trying to iron out the differences between both chambers' defense spending bills.
Nevertheless, the gridlock has to be broken by Wednesday, otherwise the federal government will run out of money to fund most of its programs.
``It's brinkmanship,'' explains Sen. Phil Gramm (R) of Texas, a conferee.