Contra Military Aid Bill Suffers Setback

Reagan Loses First Round to House Committees

WASHINGTON--President Reagan's plan for sending $100 million in military aid to Nicaraguan rebels stalled yesterday as several key members of Congress objected to harsh White House rhetoric aimed at opponents, and two more House panels opposed the request.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee, by a vote of 23-18, recommended that the proposals be defeated. Earlier in the day, the House Appropriations Committee voted against the measure and the House Armed Services Committee approved it. Two House panels had voted against it Wednesday.

Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, R-Kan., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, complained that attacks on the patriotism of opponents was "highly offensive" and announced she would oppose Reagan's package "as it is now formulated."

In the House, Rep. Dave McCurdy, D-Okla., a principal swing vote in sending non-lethal aid to the rebels last year, said, "The tactics by the administration are backfiring. The level of rhetoric, the shrillness of attack, has lost them votes."

Rep. Michael Barnes, D-Md., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs, said the administration is "using red-baiting tactics like we haven't seen in this city since Spiro Agnew was vice president."

Regardless of committee actions, special rules governing the handling of the request require that the president's proposal be sent to the full House and Senate. Those floor votes are expected in two weeks.

Late yesterday, Reagan, preparing to meet with two dozen House Republicans, told reporters, "We've got a long way to go" and said he will make a televised address, probably within two weeks, seeking public support.

Asked whether he believed those who voted against his plan were supporting communism, Reagan replied, "If so, inadvertently."

House Republican Whip Trent Lott of Mississippi and a delegation of GOP congressmen met with Reagan to discuss how to marshal votes for the aid package. Lott said Reagan promised to provide details on negotiating efforts with the Sandinistas.

Since announcing the aid plan last week, the administration has waged a lobbying blitz that included Reagan's assertion Wednesday that the $100 million is needed "so we will never have to send our own American boys" to fight Nicaragua's leftist government.

Reagan reiterated yesterday that he has no plan to send troops to Nicaragua.

"There is no request for such troops. There is no plan on our part," he told reporters during a picture-taking session before a closed meeting on another subject.

White House communications director Patrick J. Buchanan argued that the Contra aid vote will reveal whether the Democratic Party "stands with Ronald Reagan and the resistance -- or (Nicaraguan President) Daniel Ortega and the communists."