WASHINGTON -- In a series of key decisions, the Senate voted to produce nerve gas weapons and reaffirmed support for the B-1 bomber. But it voted down funds for a neutron bomb system.
It was Vice President George Bush who provided the administration's one-vote victory Wednesday on the question of breaking a 14-year moratorium on the production of nerve gas weapons.
Sen. David Pryor, D-Ark., tried to eliminate from a $200 billion military spending bill $112.5 million for the Big Eye bomb, designed to be dropped from planes, and $18.1 milion to start production of a 155 mm artillery shell carrying materials in two chambers that combine after firing to produce a nerve gas.
The vote was 49-49, so Bush stepped in and cast the deciding vote. It was the first time since Nov. 4, 1977, a vice president, acting as president of the Senate, has voted to break a tie. The last such vote came on an amendment to a Social Security bill.
The legislation requires that none of the nerve gas weapons be assembled before late 1985, and there would have to be a presidential certification that the weapons were in the national interest. The House has rejected the nerve gas money, so the future of the program now rests with a conference committee once the Senate finishes the entire bill.
By a vote of 68-30 the chamber refused a request from Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass to drop the $7 billion earmarked for the first 10 of the 92 huge B-1B bombers the administration wants to buy. The money also would go for further research on the plane some argued already is obsolete. Critics note the Air Force hopes to have a radar-shy 'Stealth' bomber ready in the next decade.
The House already has given its approval to the bomber funding, but a final vote still must be taken by the Senate.
The administration's only significant setback Wednesday came when the Senate, on a vote of 67-30, rejected a proposal to build facilites to make a new short-range nuclear artillery shell that can be made into a nuetron warhead. A neutron bomb kills with huge radiation dosages but creates little blast damage.
The vote on the neutron measure reversed the chamber's action Tuesday night in which it approved the construction money and dropped a requirement that the funds not be spent until at least one NATO nation agrees publicly to accept the weapon.
Opponents contend the battlefield weapon make it more likely that nuclear arms could be used in Western Europe.