Despite stories to the contrary, Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, said Wednesday that the White House is not flip-flopping on its opposition to a new space shuttle booster plant in Mississippi.
That plant would make boosters to replace the ones now built in Utah at Thiokol and possibly cost thousands of local jobs."I talked personally to Vice President Quayle who oversees space, and he has not backed off. The National Space Council has not backed off, and the president has not backed off," Garn told the Deseret News on Wednesday.
Last week, the Wall Street Journal used anonymous sources to report that the Bush administration was backing off its opposition to the plant because of presidential election politics.
The new plant would provide up to 3,100 jobs in a tri-corner area of Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee. And Mississippi and Alabama are seen as key swing states needed for George Bush to win in November, while most see Utah as solidly behind Bush no matter what happens with the booster plant.
The Journal said the Bush administration had proposed killing the new booster plant only to tweak House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jamie Whitten, D-Miss., whose district contains the new plant, for not providing more overall space funding.
The Journal said the administration told worried southern Republicans the House would never actually go against Whitten. But the House surprisingly approved an amendment by Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, to cut most of the plant's funding - which sent southern Republicans asking for help from the White House to save the plant.
Owens also said last week that top NASA and other officials had told him the administration was indeed backing off its opposition to the new plant. The White House and Quayle's office at that time declined comment.
But Garn said Wednesday that he has talked to numerous Republicans and Democrats involved in the controversy and said the administration has not backed off its position that the plant is unneeded and takes money away from more important space programs.
However, he said White House budget director Richard Darman did apparently tell southern Republicans that if they can find more money than the $14.1 billion now in Senate funding bills for overall space programs, he would not object to more money going for the Advanced Solid Rocket Motor plant in Mississippi.
The Senate on Wednesday was debating the appropriations bill that contains money for NASA, but Garn - who was managing the bill for Republicans - said agreements had been reached that should prevent any amendments to add back in money.