When the votes were counted in the House last week on killing what remained of the B1 bomber program, it showed an unlikely collection of conservative Democrats and Republicans and liberal Democrats supporting the demise of the plane.
One, Rep. Mendel Davis (D-S.C.), a protege and former aide to the late legendary super-hawk chairman of the Armed Services Committee, L. Mendel Rivers, not only voted to kill the B1 but also made a speech urging his colleagues to do the same.
Where all but one member of the South Carolina delegation voted to save the B1 in December, all but one voted to kill it last Wednesday.
And, in the Tennessee delegation, four members, including two conservative Republicans who favored the B1 in December, voted against it last week.
As a result, the same House that voted 191 to 161 to save the B1 on Dec. 6, voted 234 to 182 to kill it Wednesday.
A vigorous effort by House leaders to whip Democrats in line accounts for part of the turnaround, but mostly it was an aggressive, hard-nosed lobbying effort by the White House that is credited with the big win.
For the first time, according to many sources, the White House was willing to do the horse-trading and put on the political pressure to get the votes it needed.
In fact, the White House Played hardball in a big way.
The $462 million in funds to build a fifth and sixth B1 prototypes were included in a $7.8 billion appropriations bill. The bill also contained $80 million for the Clinch River nuclear breeder reactor in Tennessee, a project President Carter wanted canceled badly enough to veto an energy and research authorization bill containing funds for the reactor.
While Congress could not override that veto, it tried a run around Carter by sticking the reactor money in the supplemental appropriations, an omnibus bill with funds for everything from sewer projects to Amtrak.
Rep. James Quillen (R-Tenn.) said last week he was told that if the B1 was not knocked out of the bill, the president would veto the supplemental, thereby dooming Tennessee's Clinch River reactor. The president did not promise that he would not fight the breeder reactor at a later time, only that he would let it ride in this bill if the B1 went down. Quillen would not say who delivered the message. But he said, "To me, it was[WORD ILLEGIBLE] We couldn't afford to lose the breeder reactor."
Along with Quillen, Tennessee Reps. John Duncan (R), Marilyn Lloyd (D) and Clifford Allen (D) changed their votes from pro- to anti-B1.
Allen voted against the reactor, and on him the administration used stroking instead of a stick. Allen received calls from every member of the White House congressional liaison office, and finally from the president.
Another key call the president made was to Armed Services Committee Chairman Mel Price (D-Ill.). Price voted with the White House.
For the first time, Cabinet members, including Defense Secretary Harold Brown and Agriculture Secretary Bob Bergland, made calls to House members. Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance personally answered one member's questions about the effect of killing the B1 on the arms limitation negotiations.
In addition, agencies from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Small Business Administration called members of Congress to remind them disaster loans and sewer grants could be delayed for months if the supplemental appropriation got hung up over the B1.
In one case this backfired. Republican John Buchanan (Ala.) resented being told by the EPA that $57 million for city sewer treatment plants would be unavailable as of March 1 if he did not vote against the B1.
He complained on the floor and voted for the B1.
Rep. Robert Michel (R-Ill.) reminded Democrats gently that it was not legal to use agencies to lobby in that way, but a Democratic leadership aide said, "What the hell, Ford and Nixon did it all the time."
Outside groups, representing mayors and local officials, also made calls, pleading with House members not to tie up local project money.
"The White House did a very effective, improved job of making its case," Democratic Whip John Brademas (Ind.) said.
What the White House did was not unusual for White House lobbying operations of the past, but for the Carter White House it was a novelty. "On earlier B1 votes there was almost a reluctance to use the power of the presidency. You almost got the feeling they were somehow not involved," Rep. Bob Carr (D-Mich.), a leading opponent of the B1, said.
Complaints about the White House lobbying operation have been frequent during the past year, and at least partial blame for some defeats, such as the consumer protection agency bill, has been laid to half-hearted and uncoordinated operations.
But it was not the money for the B1 in this bill that made the vote so crucial.
The program -- to build 244 bombers at $100 million each -- had effectively been killed by Congress in September, after Carter decided the plane should not go into production.
As Carr said, the reputation of the president was at stake. "Nobody believed passing this was going to revive the B1. But this was the president's decision and Congress had agreed to let him make it. Michel (Republican whip) and (John) Rhodes (Republican leader) didn't hope to save the B1, but they sure could have embarrassed the president and made him a loser if he lost this one."
In addition, the White House had recently been badly defeated in trying to create the consumer protection agency, a bill on which it lost 101 Democratic votes.
"We had to get the train back on the track, after the loss of the consumer bill," House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) said.
White House congressional liaison staff worker William Cable said, "This was the first time this year I've felt we were together. We had a meeting . . . and told the department liaison people what their assignments were. And we told them to get responses from the members themselves, not just the staff, even if it took a call from an assistant secretary, under secretary or secretary."
Dick Seelmeyer, an aide to Rep. Joseph Addabbo (D-N.Y.) who shrewdly quarterbacked the floor effort to kill the B1, said, "In my opinion the White House came of age on this one. I don't think they'll ever go back to the old way of doing things."