The new military medical college in Bethesda, once sentenced ot death by President Carter, was reprieved yesterday by the House in what supporters called a flexing of congressional muscle and a tribute to a former House hierarch.
By a vote of 250 to 162, the House agreed to provide $12.5 million to keep the fledgling Uniformed Services University of the HEalth Sciences open for another year. THe first class of 32 students is attending courses in makeshift buildings while the permanent Bethesda campus is being readied.
THe Senate, defying a White House pronouncement of Feb. 22 that it would close the school as an economy measure, had approved the funds by a lopsided vote on April 1.
During yesterday's House debate. Rep. Robert L. Leggett (D-Calif.), a backer of the school, referred to it half-facetiously as "the F! Edward Hebert School of Military Medicine." FOr Hebert (D-La), the veteran chairman of the House Armed Services COmmittee who lost his renomination bid last year, the authorization of the college in 1972 fulfilled a personal dream.
"It was a great day for Eddie." Rep. Harold T. Johnson (D-Calif.) clled to Rep. Samuel S. Stratton (D-N.Y.) in the speaker's lobby after the vote.
Stratton, who helped mobilize support for yesterday's action and spoke during the debate, said he telephoned Hebert in New Orleans with the news.
"He's delighted," Stratton said.
Probably more important than personal loyalty, Stratton said, was a strong current of support for the project in the House and a widespread belief that Carter had trod upon congressional prerogatives. Congress had voted at least 10 times on the project, Stratton noted.
There was no immediate reaction from the White House press office.
Yesterday's debate was a trading of contradictory cost figures and congressional opinions about the need for specially trained military doctors.
Rep. Jack Edwards (R-Ala), who led the opposition to funding for the school, said a new House Appropriations Committee staff report indicated that it would cost $196,000 to graduate each student from Bethesda in 1982.Education military doctors at existion medical colleges would, by contrast, cost only $67,237, Edwards said.
Stratton insisted, however, that cost was not the only issue. We want "to create a nucleus of career-oriented doctors for the armed services," he said.
Rep. Newton I. Steers (R-Md.),whise district includes the Bethesda college site, said $66 million of the $72 million previously voted to construct its buildings already had been obligated; so the savings fron halting work would be minimal.
All House members from the Washington area voted to support the funding.
The issue got to the House floor by an unusual route. In the budget he submitted shoutly before leaving office, President Ford proposed that funds for the college be provided in an appropriation bill for the government's 1978 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, 1977.
After Carter proposed that the money bne eliminated. Sen. J. bennett Johnston (D-La.) - who is from Hebert's home state - pushed to get the money into a pending supplemental appropriation bill for the current 1977 fiscal year. That was desirable, he said, to clear up any uncertainty about the school's future.
THe Senate voted the college funds April 1, and three days later a majority of a House-Senate conference committee agreed to recommend that the money be retained in the final version of the bill - a measure that provides $29 billion for a wide variety of government programes.
Yesterday's action was final on the medical college issure, but further procedural steps must be taken before the full billis officially enacted.
As approved by the House yesterday, the measure also would provide $4.5 million to fix the leaky roof of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and add $16 million to the dederal payment to the D.C. government for fiscal 1977. The city had sought $20 million.