Resurrecting the superconducting super collider after its congressional burial three months ago, Senate and House negotiators agreed Tuesday to allocate $517 million for the giant atom smasher next year--a move that apparently assures its survival.
The decision to restore most of the funds sought by President Bush for the Texas-based project still must be ratified by separate votes of the Senate and House, but opponents of the collider all but acknowledged defeat.
Its backers cheered the news.
"We really dodged a bullet this year," said Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Tex.), a major supporter of the research facility. "It was a remarkable turnaround."
Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.) agreed, saying: "It was a long, hard battle and we have won."
With President Bush's backing, the compromise legislation is expected to get quick Senate and House approval as Congress drives toward adjournment less than a month from now.
Scientists have high expectations for the super collider, designed to be the nation's largest operating particle accelerator and the world's largest scientific instrument.
Using about 10,000 magnets still being developed, it would hurl beams of protons around a 54-mile underground oval tunnel at nearly the speed of light, forcing them to collide.
By examining debris created in the high-speed collisions, scientists believe they will be able to explore the fundamental properties of matter and energy, possibly uncovering clues about the origins of the universe.
Hopes for the project were dashed after a stunning vote June 17, when the House decided, by a margin of 232 to 181, to remove funding for the project from a $22-billion energy and water development appropriations measure.
The action came shortly after a wrenching House debate that ended in narrow rejection of a constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget.
With calls for austerity on every side, the $8.25-billion project became vulnerable as House members grew increasingly apprehensive over voters' anti-spending sentiments.
By the time the Senate voted on the issue early in August, however, backers of the super collider and the White House had redoubled their lobbying efforts. An attempt to knock out funds for the project was rejected by a lopsided 62-36 vote, and the Senate earmarked $550 million for it.
At that point, the House-killed version of funding for the collider began to show signs of life.
Two strong backers of the project--Sen. J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.) and Rep. Tom Bevill (D-Ala.)--chaired the Senate and House conferees that considered how much to allocate for the super collider's construction.
They agreed to split the difference between the Senate's $550-million figure and the $483-million outlay originally recommended by the House Appropriations Committee but later rejected by the House last June. President Bush originally asked for $650 million for the project in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.
The Energy Department said the lower figure would be the minimum amount necessary to keep super collider construction on schedule at the Waxahachie, Tex., site south of Dallas. So far, almost $1 billion in federal funds and $227 million from the state of Texas have been spent on the collider.
Part of the opposition to the super collider stemmed from its rapidly escalating costs. To counter the protests, project managers tried to build a network of support for the super collider by spreading research and procurement contracts to almost every state.
Other opposition arose from House members who had fought unsuccessfully to transfer defense spending to domestic programs and channel more funds for urban aid.
The Senate, however, in easily approving the $550 million recommended by the Energy Committee, rejected arguments by Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.) and others that the nation could not afford the super collider at a time of record budget deficits.