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House to Quickly Consider New NASA Authorization Bill

New NASA Authorization Bill
The new NASA authorization bill, yet to be formally introduced in the House, is scheduled for consideration by the full House on the afternoon of Feb. 10. (Image credit: U.S. Government)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote Feb. 10 on a NASA authorization bill virtually identical to one the chamber overwhelmingly passed last year.

The new NASA authorization bill, yet to be formally introduced in the House, is scheduled for consideration by the full House on the afternoon of Feb. 10, according to the weekly schedule issued by the office of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). The bill is one of several planned for votes under a procedure known as "suspension of the rules," which speeds the passage of bills not considered controversial.

In a statement issued late Feb. 6, leading members of the House Science Committee from both parties announced plans to introduce the bill the week of Feb. 9. "I am pleased that the House will take up and consider a widely-supported, bipartisan NASA reauthorization bill so early in this year's session," Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.), chairman of the committee’s space subcommittee and lead sponsor of the bill, said in the statement. [Related: White House Seeks $18.5 Billion NASA Budget, with Deep Space in Mind]

While the bill has yet to be formally introduced, a copy of the bill posted on the majority leader’s website shows that it is nearly identical to an authorization bill the House passed in June 2014 by a 401–2 vote. The new bill authorizes spending for fiscal year 2015, versus 2014 in the previous bill, but contains no significant changes to the other policy provisions in the earlier bill.

In an interview Feb. 5 after a speech at the Federal Aviation Administration Commercial Space Transportation Conference here, Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), ranking member of the space subcommittee and a co-sponsor of the bill, said it would be very similar to what the House passed last year, given the extensive work she and Palazzo put into crafting the earlier bill. “We don’t want to upset the apple cart,” she said.

The new bill is so similar to last year’s bill that it retains provisions largely rendered obsolete by recent events. The bill includes a section preventing NASA from using any fiscal year 2015 funds for shutting down the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) project. While SOFIA’s future was in jeopardy last year when NASA’s 2015 budget proposed mothballing the airborne observatory, Congress funded the project and NASA is seeking full funding for SOFIA in its 2016 budget request.

Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), ranking member of the space subcommittee and a co-sponsor of the bill, said it would be very similar to what the House passed last year. (Image credit: House Science Committee Democrats)

The bill’s supporters in the House believe quick passage of the bill now will give the Senate enough time to pass either that bill or its own version that can be reconciled with the House bill. Last year’s authorization died when the Senate was unable to pass a bill before the end of the year.

Palazzo said he hopes that with new leadership, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in charge of the Senate Commerce Committee’s space subcommittee, the Senate will be able to act on an authorization bill this year. “While last year’s bill, like so many other pieces of legislation, died in the Senate, I look forward to working with Chairman Ted Cruz and Senate leadership to get this year’s version over the finish line,” Palazzo said in a statement.

This story was provided by SpaceNews, dedicated to covering all aspects of the space industry.

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Jeff Foust is a Senior Staff Writer at SpaceNews.