Washington — The Reagan administration may have found a way to rescue its MX missile . . . at least temporarily, Monitor correspondent Brad Knickerbocker reports.
Emerging from a meeting with congressional leaders Tuesday, the President claimed bipartisan agreement to designate funds in 1983 for building the first missiles without actually spending the money until Congress agrees on a basing mode.
In essence, assuming the full membership of both House and Senate goes along, the administration has bought itself time to convince lawmakers that the troubled MX is necessary. In return, it is showing more flexibility on the controversial dense-pack basing plan.
The House (including 50 Republicans) last week voted to cut MX production money, and many Republicans, as well as Democrats in the Senate, remain highly skeptical. House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. (D) of Massachusetts ''wasn't a party to any compromise restoring production funds for the MX,''a spokesman said Tuesday.
What is likely to follow is a period of White House-Capitol Hill negotiation just as difficult as arms limitation talks with the Soviet Union. The administration's case was not helped last week when it was disclosed that three of the five top military officers making up the Joint Chiefs of Staff do not approve of dense pack.
Congress in recent years has allowed the Pentagon to spend $4.5 billion on MX research and development and has allocated $2.5 billion for the coming year. But questions are increasingly being asked about the survivability of a land-based missile and the sanctity of the strategic triad.
Such questions will surely be pressed during the administration's ''window of opportunity'' for saving the MX. So while the missile may continue to survive the budget-cutters' ax, it is far from firmly rooted.