Lawmakers who like to boast about how they brought their district a new dam, deeper harbor or irrigation system will find no cause to brag in a spending bill approved by the House Appropriations Committee.
The committee on Wednesday approved its first fiscal 1989 spending bill - a $17.8 billion proposal for the Department of Energy, Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation.And for the first time in the memory of panel members and veteran staffers, there's no money for the corps or the bureau to begin construction of any new water projects in fiscal 1989, which begins Oct. 1.
"You can't have just one new construction start," said Rep. Tom Bevill, D-Ala., chairman of the Appropriations energy and water development subcommittee. "If we do one, we have to do all the requests."
Bevill said the unusual austerity was necessitated by last year's budget summit at which the White House and congressional leaders agreed on a two-year blueprint designed to cut mounting federal deficits.
"This has been the most difficult appropriations bill we've ever put together," Bevill said as the full committee approved the spending bill, the first of 13 it will handle this year.
Rep. Vic Fazio, D-Calif., said the no-new-starts decree could spell an end to an old Capitol Hill juggling act: Satisfy as many member project requests as possible by putting up enough money to get the shovel in the ground, with the big bucks coming in later years.
"Those days are over," Fazio said. "Maybe the "T" word - taxes - needs to be mentioned. We've run out of room."
Bevill said that Sen. Bennett Johnston, D-La., his Senate counterpart in the appropriations process, has informally agreed to try to keep money for new starts for the corps and the bureau out of the Senate spending bill.
Another major casualty in the House bill is the administration's request for $363 million in fiscal 1989 to start construction of the Super Collider, the physics project that would explore exotic theories of matter.
The committee voted $100 million to keep the planning process alive but said the next president should decide whether to proceed and how to pay for the huge experiment, which has construction cost estimates ranging from $4.4 billion to $9 billion.
Bevill said the committee's hands were tied by the budget summit's targets for his spending area and an agreement that there would be no reductions for defense-related nuclear activities by the Department of Energy.
He said that because these total about $8.1 billion, there was little discretionary money for new projects after financing other activities like continued work on some 400 water projects already under construction and paying for operation and maintenance of hundreds more.
The no-new-starts posture would have less of an impact on the Bureau of Reclamation, the Interior Department agency that operates west of the Mississippi.
For the second straight year, the administration sought no new construction for the bureau, which has announced it is phasing down its building activities in favor of water conservation and environmental restoration. Congress added no bureau starts last year.