WASHINGTON - A leading House opponent of the $11 billion Superconducting Super Collider yesterday predicted that the House would approve an amendment tomorrow to kill collider funding as President Clinton's $347 billion budget package cleared another hurdle in the Senate.
"It will be a close vote, but we are confident" the amendment to strike most of the collider's funding will pass when the energy and water appropriations bill reaches the House floor Thursday, said Joel Shapiro, a legislative assistant to Rep. Jim Slattery, D-Kan., the chief sponsor of the amendment.
Shapiro spoke as the House Rules Committee approved a measure allowing Slattery to offer the amendment to strike all the collider's funding except for $220 million needed to shut down the atomic energy project, which is under construction in Waxahachle, Tex.
Cancellation of the funding for the project would create problems for Texas, which has issued $250 million of lease revenue bonds that are indirectly linked to the congressional appropriation. Project officials say that most of the issue's proceeds have been spent, and the state would be left with the responsibility of making payment on the bonds.
"I'd be more interested in pork-barrel futures than in collider futures, if I were an investor right now," said Shapiro, who added that the amendment's sponsors were largely unaware that a state bond issue was indirectly tied to the funding. "Texas is very creative and I'm sure it could find some way to use the technology" if Congress abandoned the project, he said.
Any amendment to cancel funding would also have to be approved by the Senate, where support for the collider has traditionally been stronger. The House voted to terminate the collider last year, but the Senate overrode that decision.
Sen. Dale Bumpers, D-ark., has promised to try to attach an amendment cancelling the collider funding either to the energy appropriations bill this summer or to the budget package in Senate floor consideration this week.
One more senator - Democrat Harris Wofford of Pennsylvania - announced yesterday that he was withdrawing his support for the collider despite its prospective scientific and economic value." Wofford is proposing to cut the collider as part of an amendment to achieve another $64.7 billion in federal spending cuts in the next five years.
"The super collider's $2.8 billion price tag [over five years) is simply too steep given the magnitude of the deficit problem and the importance of minimizing the need for new taxes," Wofford said.
Shapiro said the drive for additional spending cuts in Congress also has been a motivating force behind House support for Slattery's
amendment this year. He predicted that half of the House's 114-member freshman class would join the 183 members who voted for the amendment last year to push it toward victory again this week.
The developments on the collider came as the Senate Budget Committee yesterday approved the budget package. The 12-to-9 vote sends the package, which carries out most of Clinton's economic program, to the Senate floor.
The bill contains $249 billion of net new taxes, $84 billion of net spending cuts, and $15 billion of user fees. Committee chairman James Sasser, D-Tenn., said he would add an amendment on the floor to put caps on more than $500 billion a year of discretionary spending programs in the next five years, adding another $102 billion of spending cuts to the package.
Sen. Pete Domenici, D-N.M., the committee's ranking minority member, said Senate Republicans may block the spending cap amendment unless it "walls off" defense spending from domestic spending by placing separate caps on the two categories. Domenici said that approval of the amendment in the Senate would require 60 votes and thus the support of some of the its 44 Republicans.
Domenici and other Republican senators also promised additional amendments to strike selected tax increases in the bill and replace them with spending cuts.