WASHINGTON - President Clinton was optimistic yesterday that the Senate would pass his budget this week, but he warned that saving the Superconducting Super Collider will be difficult because of repeated calls by Texas politicians for additional spending cuts.
"It will not be easy, but I believe the Senate will do it," Clinton said, speaking of his $500 billion deficit reduction plan and the Senate vote scheduled for later this week. He made these and other comments on six radio talk-show interviews airing in Dallas, New York City, Los Angeles, and other cities.
With each interview, Clinton appeared increasingly more confident about the chances not only for his economic program, but for other major initiatives to follow, such as health-care reform and welfare reform.
"We're breaking the gridlock," Clinton said, noting, "It's been more than a decade since the President's budget has even been taken seriously by Congress. "
Passage of the budget with its stiff tax increases and spending cuts have cost him some popularity in the short run, Clinton said, but in the long run the country will see it as fair and effective at reducing the deficit.
"I'd be surprised if we don't adopt the economic package" and go on to pass other major bills this year, he said.
By contrast, Clinton predicted a "tough" fight to save the $11 billion collider and the $22 billion space station, both of which have been targeted by congressional opponents despite his proposal to continue them at reduced levels of funding.
The two projects are being built in Texas, where Republican senators Phil Gramm and Kay Bailey Hutchison campaigned in a special election last month against the Clinton budget, claiming that it does not cut spending deeply enough and relies too heavily on taxes.
"Some of the claims in the last election have given real energy to the opponents of the super collider" in Congress, who see the Texas politicians' stance as an open invitation to cancel the atomic energy project in their home state, Clinton said.
"There are people who are just gleeful" at the prospect of "using their rhetoric against them," Clinton said. "It will be harder for us to keep the project alive, but I'll do the best I can. "
Clinton said he remains a "strong supporter" and believer in the collider as a scientific investment and thinks "it would be a mistake to abandon" it. "I will try to save it for the good of the country," he said.
Clinton's comments came as opponents in the House of Representatives stepped up their preparations for a fight on the floor later this week over striking the collider's $620 million of funding for fiscal 1994, contained in an energy and water appropriations bill.
"The SSC costs too much money with too much potential for waste for too few benefits." said Rep. Mike Kreidler, D-Wash., a freshman congressman who is circulating a letter to other House members urging cancellation of the project.
Kreidler and another member campaigning for the project's elimination, Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., note that even supporters in the administration have no idea how much completion of the project will cost. Estimates have more than doubled since the project was started in 1988 at a projected cost of $4 billion.
"How anyone can ask people to vote in good conscience for a project that doesn't even have a price tag at this point is beyond me," Boehlert said, urging members to downplay the significance of Clinton's support.
On the budget package, Clinton stressed that it already contains over $200 billion of spending cuts in 200 programs. And Republicans who are calling for additional cuts have refused to specify what programs they would target, he said.
After the budget package passes the Senate this week, Clinton said, House and Senate conferees will "try to take the best parts of both bills" produced by each chamber.
Clinton said the final plan should include his urban empowerment zone proposal and other tax incentives for small businesses contained in the House bill but eliminated or cut back in the Senate version of the budget plan.
The empowerment zone proposal includes an expanded use of tax-exempt bonds, but Clinton did not specify whether he would fight for other bond incentives in the House bill, including his high-speed rail bond proposal and permanent bond extensions. Those also were cut by the Senate Finance Committee.
Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen also declined yesterday to specify which of the Clinton incentives the administration is prepared to fight for in conference.
Bentsen said the House and Senate bills are "at least 85%" alike, and finding a compromise between the two should not be that difficult.
Failure to pass the plan, however, would have disastrous consequences, he said, including an "upward spike" in interest rates, a drop in the stock market, and possibly a return to recession.