WASHINGTON – As the U.S. Senate moved closer to voting on a spending bill that would give NASA an extra $1.15 billion for 2008, lawmakers rejected an amendment to trim $150 million from the U.S. space agency?s budget to help states prosecute crimes committed by illegal aliens.

The Senate voted 70-20 to table the amendment, which was offered by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) during floor debate Oct. 16 on the Commerce, Justice, Science spending bill.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations commerce, justice, science subcommittee, led the opposition to the Ensign amendment, warning colleagues that trimming NASA?s budget would further lengthen an already nearly five-year gap between retiring the space shuttle and fielding its replacement, the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle and its Ares I launcher. She was joined by her subcommittee co-chair, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), and Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) in speaking against the amendment.

The 2008 Commerce, Justice, Science spending bill includes $17.5 billion in regular funds for NASA and $1 billion in so-called emergency money that lawmakers added at the prodding of Mikulski, Hutchison, Nelson, Shelby and others to help NASA recover financially from the 2003 space shuttle Columbia accident.

A vote on the spending bill was expected late Oct. 17, setting the stage for a legislative conference with the House of Representatives, which passed a related spending bill this summer that did not include extra emergency funding for NASA.

The White House has threatened to veto the Commerce, Justice, Science spending bill if the Congress sends the bill forward with more funding than President George W. Bush requested. The Senate version of the bill, which funds several different agencies, exceeds Bush?s request by over $3 billion, not including the $1 billion in emergency NASA money.