WASHINGTON -- Sen. Dale Bumpers, D-Ark., moved late yesterday to kill $640 million in funds for the $11 billion Superconducting Super Collider, but predicted that the full Senate would vote to defeat his amendment later in the evening.
"We've come to the litmus test. People have the opportunity to put their votes where there mouths are," Bumpers said, reminding senators of the "spending cut fervor" that reigned on the Senate floor during July when it debated the $500 billion budget package.
"How many times did we hear the cry, ~we've got to cut more spending' ? But I'm telling you, 45 days later, everyone has forgotten what they said then," Bumpers said. He said that he has found himself to be the only one lobbying against the Texas atomic energy project-in recent days, while an army of "thousands" of physicists, state officials, and industry backers have been working fervently to save it.
Indirectly linked to the federal, funding are $250 million of lease revenue bonds issued by Texas in Dec. 1991 to partly finance its $1 billion share of the project.
The bonds are backed by a state appropriation pledge, and state officials. have repeatedly said they will honor that pledge regardless of what Congress does.
However, the bonds' official statement says the possibility of Congress pulling the plug on the project by withholding funding represents a clear risk for bond holders, since the state could not complete the project on its own and has the option of discontinuing lease payments each year under the lease bond documents.
The state also issued $250 million of general obligation bonds, but holder's 6f those bonds are expected to be paid regardless of what Congress does.
Bumpers also predicted that if the Senate voted to save the project by upholding the $640 million of funding contained in a pending energy appropriations bill, a House-senate conference committee meeting later over the bill would also uphold the funding.
The House voted 250 to 130 on June 24 to cut off all but the $220 million of fiscal 1994 funding needed to close the project out. Collider opponents there have been striving to ensure that the House leadership stands fast for the House position in the conference committee.
But Bumpers said: "If we don't kill it here, the bill will come back from the conference with the full $640 million in it, I promise you."
Bumpers said he now regrets his decision not to offer an amendment to kill the collider in the debate over the budget package, because he believes it would have passed the Senate at that time.
The collider's chief defender, Sen. Bennett Johnston, D-La., said a vote against the project would amount to only a "cheap political thrill" because it would succeed in cutting only 43/1000ths of the budget -- the amount of total federal spending represented by the collider.
"We cannot afford to turn our backs on this project at this point" after having 20% completed construction of the 54-mile long particle accelerator, Johnston said.
Calling yesterday's debate a "replay" of previous unsuccessful attempts to kill the collider, Johnston said: "At some point, a great country, a great Democracy has got to make a decision and stick to it."