WASHINGTON -- The House pushed a stake through the heart of the $11 billion superconducting supercollider program yesterday, voting emphatically, for the second time since June and the third time in 16 months, to reject financing for the vast Texas atom-smasher.
Each time, the Senate has rescued the project, which has already cost $2 billion, from the House attempts to kill it. But after yesterday's 264-159 vote on a crucial procedural vote in the House, its most important advocate in the Senate, J. Bennett Johnston, said the project appeared to be lost.
"The House is wrong, but they have a right to be wrong," said Mr. Johnston, a Louisiana Democrat. "Their message on deficit reduction and the superconducting supercollider was clear and unmistakable." The Senate, he said, "must find a way to accommodate this message."
Mr. Johnston called the vote "a sad day for science," adding that the demise of the project called into question the nation's commitment to expensive scientific research of all kinds.
In the Maryland delegation, Democrat Steny H. Hoyer and Republicans Roscoe G. Bartlett, Helen Delich Bentley and Wayne T. Gilchrest voted in favor of the collider. Democrats Benjamin L.Cardin, Kweisi Mfume and Albert Wynn joined Republican Constance A. Morella in opposition.
Opponents of the program were jubilant, but skeptical that Mr. Johnston has given up the fight.
"We're on about the fifth paragraph of the obituary," said one of the program's leading critics, Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, a New York Republican. "I'd be very surprised," he added, if the battle does not go on.
Some supporters predicted that the supercollider's legions of corporate and political backers would mount at least one more effort to save the project that is being built under the plains in Waxahachie, Texas, which is south of Dallas.
Yesterday's vote left supporters of the project a breath of hope because it turned, at least in part, on complex procedural issues rather than substance.
At issue was whether the House should give its final approval to a bill allotting $22.5 billion for hundreds of water and energy projects around the country, including $640 million that the Senate had approved for continued construction of the supercollider.
House supporters of the project knew they lacked the votes to keep the $640 million allotment in the bill, and so they tried to buy time by sending the measure back to a House-Senate committee.
Yesterday's vote turned back that effort, too. Minutes later it did vote to ship the bill back to the House-Senate panel -- but with orders that financing for the supercollider be removed. That proposal passed, 242-143.
A leading critic of the project in the Senate, Dale Bumpers, an Arkansas Democrat, said the House votes were "encouraging, but not conclusive." The supercollider cannot be certified dead until the House disposes of the entire $22.5 billion water and energy bill, he said.