WASHINGTON - Senate opponents of the $11 billion Superconducting Super Collider project said yesterday they will probably offer an amendment to kill it when the budget package reaches the Senate floor next week.
"That's under serious consideration," said Sen. Dale Bumpers, D-Ark., after several Senate Finance Committee Democrats yesterday repeated their calls to scrap the collider in their continuing search to find additional spending cuts for the budget. Bumpers led an unsuccessful attempt to kill the collider in the Senate last year.
The latest threat by Senate opponents came as President Clinton said at a White House press conference that he would issue a policy statement on both the collider and the $22 billion spare station in the next few days. Clinton in February proposed keeping the collider alive at a reduced level of $640 minion of funding in fiscal 1994.
In his latest comments, Clinton cautioned against jettisoning both programs without understanding what that action would mean for science research.
Any decision by Congress to cancel collider funding as part of a budget agreement would probably present a problem for Texas, which has issued $250 million each of lease revenue bonds and general obligation bonds for the project.
Most of the proceeds from the lease issue, which is backed by Texas appropriations, have been obligated, according to project official Ed Bingler. State officials have not made any contingency plans should Congress pull the plug on the project's 90% federal funding, he said, but the state legislature remains strongly committed to the bond issues.
Senate opponents of the collider have vowed to try to also kill the space station next week, but have indicated they may be willing to accept cancellation of just one of the projects. The talk of trying to cancel the collider as early as next week comes much earlier than expected, since the Senate was not due to take up a collider funding bill until late this summer.
The House Appropriations Committee this week is expected to consider a funding bill containing all but $20 million of the collider funding that Clinton proposed. But opponents of the project in the full House, who succeeded in temporarily killing funding last year, have vowed to go after it again this year.
A senior White House official said the administration has been anticipating an uphill fight to try to save the collider, though it sees more upbeat prospects for the space station.
Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Sen. Donald Riegle, D-Mich., have been pushing for cancellation of the science projects in the last two weeks in negotiations among finance committee Democrats, and several other committee members have offered sympathy. Liberal senators, in particular, view the collider cut proposal as an alternative to cuts in the Medicare and Medicaid programs under the committee's jurisdiction.
Conrad said yesterday the move against the collider is more likely to occur on the Senate floor, however, because jurisdictional problems will prevent the committee from proposing cancellation as part of its own contribution to the budget package.
An amendment against the collider could be difficult to pass on the Senate floor, however. Bumpers said that because such an amendment would be considered "extraneous" to the budget package under Senate rules, it would require a 60-vote margin to pass. in the past, Bumpers' attempts to kill the collider have never culled that many votes.
In addition, to get such a large majority, Bumpers said he would have to attract the votes not only of most of the Senate's 56 Democrats, but of a substantial number of its 44 Republicans, most of whom are committed to voting against the budget bill because of its $250 billion of net new taxes.
Bumpers said he will consult with one Republican who has cosponsored his past efforts to kill the collider - Sen. John Warner, R-Va. - about the possibility of getting Republican support this time. Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo., said he believes Bumpers' amendment might get some Republican votes.
Both of Texas' Republican senators, Phil Gramm and Kay Bailey Hutchison, are strong supporters of the collider, but have also been vocal proponents of spending cuts rather than tax increases. Some observers believe their stance has left the collider more vulnerable than ever to another assault by liberal opponents.
Sen. Bennett Johnston, D-La., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee subcommittee that traditionally provides funding for the collider each year, said he continues to strongly support the project. He sought to downplay the significance of the, latest move against it, noting that "this has become an annual thing."
Clinton was not clear in his comments what he intends to do about the space station or the supercollider.
"Keep in mind a lot of those who say they don't like the space station or who really don't think the supercollider is the best use of our investments in physics may be [pushing for] other investments that may be made," Clinton said yesterday. "We're talking here about reducing America's investment in space and technology, and that's something I think we need to think about a long time before we do that."
But when asked whether his remarks indicated he is going to support both the space station and supercollider, Clinton declined to answer. "Wait and see what I say," he said. "I'm going to issue a very careful statement to the Congress in the next few days which will outline my position."
Still, Clinton reserved his most positive remarks for the space station, which was the subject of a recent report by a bipartisan commission.
"I do think it's important to recognize the space station offers us the potential of working with other nations and continuing our lead in a very important area and having a very significant technological impact," Clinton said. "In the aftermath of all the cutbacks in defense and what they mean for science and technology, it is something we should, in my judgment, consider very carefully."
Meanwhile, the finance committee Democrats were expected to work late into the evening yesterday trying to come up with an agreement on a plan to replace Clinton's broad-based energy tax with a tax on transportation fuels and cuts in Medicare and selected tax expenditures.
Sen. John Breaux, D-La., said cutbacks in Clinton's proposed permanent extensions for expired tax provisions, including the tax exemptions for mortgage revenue bonds and small-issue industrial development bonds, were still under discussion.
Committee chairman Daniel P. Moynihan, D-N.Y., said the markup session scheduled for today will probably be postponed until tomorrow. While agreement has been elusive, most committee members said they were confident they would come up with one by their Friday deadline to report a $307 billion bill to the Senate Budget Committee.
Clinton also predicted yesterday that the final version of the budget and tax package would include a proposal for urban enterprise zones, despite reports that Senate Democrats will eliminate that plan from their version of the legislation.