Senate rescues supercollider funding $13 billion cut by House restored

October 01, 1993|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Washington Bureau Staff writer Nelson Schwartz contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- Less than two months after a wave of budget-cutting rhetoric in Congress, the Senate voted overwhelmingly yesterday to restore funds for the superconducting supercollider -- a huge science project derided opponents as exactly the kind of pork barrel spending the country can no longer afford.

The rescue of the $13 billion supercollider -- the only major project cut from the budget this year by the House of Representatives -- comes at the end of an appropriations process that trimmed spending only slightly from last year.

Although the lawmakers have managed to live within their self-imposed spending ceilings for the fiscal 1994 budget -- and even agreed to phase out World War II-era subsidies for wool and mohair producers and to kill another tiny subsidy for beekeepers -- their enthusiasm for the wholesale reductions touted during this summer's budget deliberations has not been much in evidence.

"When are we going to start?" demanded Sen. Dale L. Bumpers, an Arkansas Democrat who has spent the past two weeks trying in vain to persuade his colleagues to kill several expensive and controversial research projects.

"All those debates 45 days ago about when we are going to cut spending -- all that rhetoric -- nobody was really serious about it. How can we walk out on this floor and with a straight face vote for the supercollider and all those things we don't need?"

Louisiana Sen. J. Bennett Johnston, whose home state stands to gain jobs through the development of the 54-mile underground project in Texas, said after the vote that he was pleased the Senate was able to rise above the "emotional waves" that prompted the House to vote 350-73 in June to kill the project.

The fate of the supercollider will ultimately be decided by a House-Senate conference committee, which will try to resolve the disagreement between the two chambers.

The 57-42 Senate vote in favor of the supercollider came as the Congress was winding up its consideration of the 13 separate appropriations bills that spell out how money already approved in broad budgetary categories will be spent.

Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland supported the supercollider; her Democratic colleague, Paul S. Sarbanes, opposed it.

"This is snapshot budgeting," explained Rep. Jim Slattery, a Democrat from Kansas who led the supercollider opposition in the House. "People talk about cuts in general, but when it comes to specific projects, they don't want to do it."

The gap between rhetoric and action is especially clear in the Senate. It could barely muster enough votes in August to pass President Clinton's five-year plan for cutting the deficit through tax increases and spending cuts, but it delivered a lopsided bipartisan majority to continue financing the supercollider, a 2-year-old project whose estimated cost has already tripled.

Yesterday's Senate vote was regarded as a bad sign by lawmakers looking forward to a new round of attempted budget cuts later this fall.

"It says we are not quite there yet in terms of a serious effort to attack the deficit," said Rep. Timothy J. Penny, a Minnesota Democrat who is retiring from the Congress next year partly because of his frustration with his colleagues' unwillingness to work toward a balanced budget.

In order to get his tax and spending plan through the House last summer, Mr. Clinton promised to send Congress a bill this fall that can be used for making additional cuts in spending.

That legislation is expected to include a few items from Vice President Al Gore's program for "re-inventing government," such proposals to close federal agency field offices and cut personnel.

In addition, legislators such as Mr. Penny are planning to offer other proposed cuts in defense, domestic discretionary and mandatory benefit programs.

But even Sen. Bob Kerrey, the Nebraska Democrat who said to his colleagues in August "to save, I must say 'no' to something I want now because I believe deeply that the dollar I save will be worth considerably more tomorrow," voted yesterday to fund the supercollider.

"I believe it makes scientific sense, that it is an exciting part of this nation," he explained.

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