A last-ditch bid to save the B1 bomber failed in the House yesterday as it agreed to delete $462 million in B1 funds from a $7.8 billion appropriation bill.
The 234-to-182 vote effectively kills the bomber program that President Carter called wasteful and marks a victory for the White House.
The victory was not total, however, because the bill still contains $80 million for the Clinch River breeder reactor that Carter also wanted killed.
Carter vetoed a $6.2 billion energy research authorization bill containing money for the reactor, and then Congress left it out of a subsequent energy research authorization.
But Congress refused to take the money out of an appropriations bill, and Carter now must decide what to do.
Congressional sources said they are certain Carter will not veto the appropriation bill, which also contains $4.5 billion for Environmental Protection Agency construction grants, $1.4 billion for small business disaster loans, funds for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and money to help poor people in the northeast pay high utility bills.
One option is for Carter to send Congress a separate recission on the Clinch River breeder reactor funds. White House sources said a decision on what to do will not be made until the bill reaches the president's desk.
Though the House and Senate agreed in principle to kill the plan to build 244 B1 at $100 million a plane last year, the House in December refused to knock out $462 million for two more prototype planes from the supplemental appropriation bill.
Defense Department talk last fall of building an FB111 bomber shortly after Congress killed B1 production angered many House members, and that combined with a higher number of absentlees on the day of the December vote, was blamed for the House's reversal.
Though the Senate repeated its insistence on knocking out the B1 money, 58 to 37, on Feb. 1, the House vote yesterday had been expected to be close.
Subcontractors for the B1 are scatered throughout many congressional districts, and on a practical level House members had to weigh continuing support for the bomber against political consequences of further delaying money for many projects and programs for their states and districts.
House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) argued that it was time to put the B1 bomber to rest.
"I realized there is an emotional attachment to the B1 as a powerful symbol of technological and aircraft might," O'Neill said, "but we all know the weapon of the future is the cruise missile." O'Neill also reminded his colleagues of the money for local projects in the bill.
But Rep. Robert L. F. Sikes (D-Fla.) said, "The agencies could have had their money long weeks ago it we were not engrossed in the B1 fight."
Sikes argued that the capabilities of the cruise missile were unknown, that it had not been fully tested and that the Soviets had developed and were producing an SA10 missile that "could reach and destroy" the cruise missile.
Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N. Y.) said the country "need the option of continuing the production line of the B1 in case "strategic arms limitation talks "deteriorate further."
Rep. Jack Edwards (R-Ala.) called himself a "superhawk" but said he could not support building a fifth and sixth B1 prototypes. With testing the cost of the two planes could go over $700 million, Edwards said, adding, "it is time to say no and save the taxpayers three-quaters of a billion dollars."
Four B1 prototypes have been built and $500 million more will be spent on research and development and to close out the program.
In addition, $106 million is in the upcoming budget to study the feasibility of a penetration bomber and still more money is expected to be needed to study other options, including updating the B52 bomber.
Rockwell International, the builder of the B1, was receiving about a $1 million a month for the program pending yesterday's final congressional action.
On yesterday's key vote, all four area House members, Democrats Joseph Fisher and Herbert E. Harris of Virginia, and Gladys N. Spellman (D) and Newton I Steers (R) of Maryland, voted to kill the B1 funds.