The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee yesterday approved a strong sunset bill under which any federal program would die unless specifically reauthorized by Congress every 10 years.

The bill was sent to the Senate by a vote of 12 to 3, but the key vote came last week when the committee rejected, 9 to 8, an amendment that would have softened sunset to a directive that congressional committees review programs periodically. The Senate passed a similarly strong sunset bill in the last Congress, but the drive to pass a law that could substantially cut back big government was thought to have lost momnetum.

The lineup in the Government Operations Committee generally pitted older members who had fought over the years for existing programs and opposed action that might kill them against younger members who have shown a distrust for the notion that federal dollars can solve all problems. Sen. Henry Jackson (D-Wash.), chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, was one of sunset's strongest opponents. If committees are forced to reauthorize all programs under their jurisdiction, he said. They won't have time to look at any new ideas.

In the House, a Rules subcommittee has approved a weakened version of the sunset bill that would direct strong oversight by committees of programs under their jurisdition but would not cause a program automatically to die unless reauthorized.