Clinton puts 2 scientific projects in Congress' hands Debate over cuts in budget sought

February 26, 1993|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Pledging to seek new spending cuts throughout "the entire duration of my term," President Clinton threw the fate of two multibillion-dollar technology projects into the hands of Congress yesterday and said the lawmakers were free to debate more defense reductions.

Mr. Clinton, responding to increasing public and political pressure for more spending cuts, said he did not agree with those calling for the scrapping of the space station and the superconducting Supercollider, but added: "They can be debated on the floor of Congress."

This all but invited lawmakers -- particularly Republicans and conservative Democrats who have led the chorus for more cuts -- to target the two controversial projects in their efforts to reduce the budget deficit.

Acknowledging that Democrats were among those pressuring him for more cuts that "I honestly disagree with," he cited additional defense reductions as one area of internal party disagreement. "I've already had to cut defense more than I pledged to do in the campaign," he said. "So I don't think I can cut any more right now." But he added: "The Congress will be free to debate that."

In his economic plan, Mr. Clinton proposes paring back both the atom-smashing Supercollider and the space station. He seeks savings of $2.1 billion over the next four years by redesigning the space station, and $108 million by stretching out development of the Supercollider, which is under construction in Texas.

According to a list of possible deficit-reduction initiatives compiled by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) this month, cancellation of the NASA space station would save $10.4 billion in outlays over the next five years. Scrapping the Department of Energy's Supercollider -- a 54-mile proton accelerator designed to investigate the origins of matter and test theories about the unity of electromagnetism and radioactive decay -- would save $2.8 billion.

Critics of the space station say the limited contributions they see it making to U.S. defense and space programs do not justify its cost. Supporters say it will provide the technology for long-duration space flight and yield unknown scientific benefits.

The Supercollider, according to the CBO, will consume 6 percent of all federal basic research spending over the next five years -- "a disproportionate share," given its likely contribution to "usable science or technology in the near future, if ever."

A bill to kill federal funding for the project has already been introduced in Congress by Rep. Jim Slattery, a Democrat from Kansas, who found 25 co-sponsors for the proposal.

The lawmakers on Capitol Hill will be the final arbiters of the Clinton program, and Republican opponents sense that Mr. Clinton is having trouble keeping conservative members of his own party in line. To try to win their support, the president is striving to build popular pressure for passage of his proposals.

A nationwide Times Mirror poll suggests he is succeeding. Conducted over four days ending Tuesday, it shows that 58 percent of Americans favor the program the president outlined to Congress Feb. 17. The program was opposed by only 27 percent of those surveyed, while 15 percent were unsure.

Mr. Clinton has already compromised on the timing of the legislation, delaying his job-creating stimulus program so that it will be voted on at the same time as a budget resolution outlining his deficit-reduction package of tax increases and spending cuts.

Meanwhile, Jack Kemp, the prominent Republican who helped engineer Reaganomics in the 1980s and is expected to run for president in 1996, announced that he is forming a national coalition to defeat the Clinton economic plan. Economic growth is the solution he thinks will best solve the nation's economic problems.

Budget Director Leon E. Panetta announced yesterday that the full budget document would be submitted to Congress on April 5 but that the appropriations and budget committees would get detailed account-by-account information by March 25.

"The important thing is that we are going to get the key congressional committees the information they need to move the budget process forward," said Mr. Panetta. "There will be no delay."

Mr. Clinton yesterday continued the sales campaign for his program at a meeting of business and labor leaders at the White House. But he ran into demands for more spending cuts even from this supportive group.

The demands have been at the core of Republican-led opposition to his blueprint for revitalizing the economy. Critics charge that the program is too heavy on tax increases and too light on spending cuts.

Asked yesterday at the White House meeting if he would be willing to support more spending cuts, Mr. Clinton replied: "Like what? Like what?"

He pointed out he had worked for weeks on his budget, but would still be "happy to embrace" more spending cuts, adding: "If I find more that I think are worthy, I'll be glad to incorporate them."

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