WASHINGTON -- Senate opponents of the $11.2 billion Super-conducting Super Collider announced yesterday that victory is within their grasp, and that they expect to deal the final blow to the Texas atomic energy project in September.
"This is the fifth year I've led the charge to torpedo this project, " said Sen. Dale Bumpers, D-Ark. He noted in a press conference that collider opponents have increased in numbers each year to the point that they voted 280 to 150 to close out the project's funding in the House last month.
"I'm finally convinced we're going to get the votes this year" in the Senate, Bumpers said.
The senator told The Bond Buyer earlier this summer that he believes he may win 52 votes on the Senate floor for his amendment to kill funding. Last year, 32 senators voted against the project.
Indirectly linked to the congressional funding are $250 million of lease revenue bonds issued by Texas in December 1991.
State officials say Texas has largely used up the bond proceeds, and that the state legislature is committed to continuing payment on the bonds even if Congress pulls the plug on the project.
Joining Bumpers in predicting a final victory over the collider when Congress returns from its Labor Day recess in September were three other Senate opponents, several House members, and a lobbying group organized for the first time this year to defeat the project.
The senators were John Warner, R-Va.; Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.; and Richard Bryan, D-Nev. The umbrella lobbying group, calling itself OOPS! -- Organizations Opposed to the SSC -- includes the 250,000-member Citizens for a Sound Economy, the National Taxpayers Union, and Citizens Against Government Waste.
"Taxpayers don't want to pay for a bunch of protons running around in circles." said Thomas Schatz, president of the citizens waste group.
But while the collider opponents were confident of victory in the end, they conceded they are likely to lose a short-term skirmish, possibly early next month, in the Senate Appropriations Committee. Bumpers said the committee will probably include about $630 million of funding for the project in its fiscal 1994 energy and water appropriations bill.
Sen. Bennett Johnston, D-La., chairman of the committee's energy and water developmen-subcommittee and the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, continues to strongly support funding. He has scheduled a joint hearing before his panels on the collider next week. Bumpers said most of the witnesses will probably strongly favor the project.
Johnston appears to be trying to strengthen his hand by postponing until September consideration of the bill in the full Senate, where the real battle is expected to occur, Bumpers said. That would be a month after Congress is scheduled to have passed its $343 billion tax and budget package, and only weeks before the start of the fiscal year.
Bumpers noted that opposition to the collider has been particularly potent this year because of the debate over the budget package, which contains a high ratio of tax increases to spending cuts. In the House, Democratic opponents used their votes against the collider to show they were willing to ruthlessly cut spending and raise taxes.
"The biggest difference over last year in both the House and Senate is the national uproar about spending cuts." Bumper said. "Those who have talked a lot in the Senate about spending cuts will have a golden opportunity to put their votes where their mouths are."
Texas' two Republican senators, Phil Gramm and Kay Bailey Hutchison, have been among the most outspoken proponents of spending cuts this year. President Clinton said this month that the bad blood in Congress generated by their boisterous campaign against his economic program, which includes $640 million of 1994 funding for the collider, will make it difficult to save the project in the Senate.
Rep. Jim Slattery, D-Kan., and other House opponents said they have been developing a strategy to ensure the defeat of the collider, just in case the Senate approves funding and it is included in the House-Senate conference bill.
Slattery said he and Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., have been circulating a letter to the 280 House members who voted against the project last month, asking them to pledge to vote against any conference bill that contains collider funding.