WASHINGTON - The House opponents of the $11 billion Super-conducting Super Collider, fueled by this year's drive to cut deficit spending, yesterday won a lopsided victory to end funding for the Texas atomic science project.
By 280 to 150, the House voted along bipartisan lines to kill all but the $220 million of funding for fiscal 1994 that would be needed to shut down the project under construction just south of Dallas.
Texas has issued $250 million of lease revenue bonds which are indirectly linked to the federal funding. The Senate, where opponents of the collider have been gathering strength but where support for has traditionally been greater than in the House, has not yet voted on a funding bill.
"The time has come to stop spending on an enormous pork barrel project such as this," said Rep. Marge Roukema. R-N.J., reflecting the sentiments of many House members. "We owe it to the American taxpayers to end this wasteful system," she said.
With Congress imposing $250 billion of tax increases and $200 billion of cuts in other areas of the budget, opponents said, it can no longer justify supporting a science project whose costs keep escalating but whose proven benefits are few.
"How can we continue to ask taxpayers for their help when we continue to support such a project," asked Rep. Ted Strickland, D-Ohio.
Alluding to the resentment among House members toward prominent Texas politicians who this year have been campaigning for more spending cuts, Strickland said, "We need to put our votes where our rhetoric is."
Even as he spoke, Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot -- in the past, a strong supporter of the collider -- held a rally outside the Capitol building during which he called on Congress to "put spending cuts first" before enacting taxes to reduce the deficit.
The opponents defied strong last-minute lobbying by House Democratic leaders, Vice President Al Gore, and other members of the Clinton administration, to save the project.
Rep. Vic Fazio, D-Cal., a Democratic whip, said the urge by many members to penalize Texas was "parochial" and should be resisted in the name of scientific progress. "The SSC may be the most important scientific project of our life-time," he said.
House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., also made a last-minute plea for the project, and said the money saved by killing it would only be used to fund more pork barrel water projects.
But in the end, the sheer size of the project and estimates of the growing federal funding burden moved House members to strike the project down.
"This turkey's going to cost us at least $11 billion plus $2 billion in stretch-out costs," said Rep. David Obey, D-Wis. "The super collider might be nice to have some day, but for now, we should put it on the shelf." he said.
Meanwhile, Senate Democrats late yesterday were moving toward adoption of their version of President Clinton's $347 billion deficit reduction package, with Democratic leaders continuing to be confident of passage late last night or this morning.
In action on the bill, the Senate defeated an attempt by Budget Committee chairman James Sasser, D-Tenn., to attach an amendment requiring the President and Congress to take legislative action if more than $767 billion of entitlement spending exceeds the annual limits projected in the bill.
Sasser's provision on entitlement review was similar to one which the House adopted last month after a push by Rep. Charles Stenholm, D-Tex., and other conservative and moderate Democrats who sought to put a lid on large and fast-growing entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
Though the amendment was defeated on technical grounds, failing to muster a required three-fifths vote, it nevertheless received the support of 54 of the Senate's Democrats and seems likely to be adopted by the House-Senate conference committee over the bill.
The Senate Finance Committee's attempt earlier this month to cut the burgeoning Medicare program by another $19 billion also lost ground late yesterday as Senate leaders moved toward an agreement with liberal Senators to scale back those cuts.
The committee Democrats had spent weeks in negotiation over augmenting the $50 billion of Medicare cuts proposed by Clinton and whittling down his proposed energy tax increase to improve its lopsided ratio of tax increases to spending cuts.