WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Senate gave finalpassage to a stripped-down spending measure Feb. 14 that denies NASA and manyother federal agencies a budget increase for 2007.
Thespending measure, House Resolution 20, was approved by the U.S. House ofRepresentatives on Jan. 31 and now heads to the White House where PresidentGeorge W. Bush is expected to sign it into law.
CongressionalDemocrats first announced in mid-December they intended to pass a so-calledcontinuing resolution to fund most federal agencies besides the Defense andHomeland Security departments at or near their 2006 levels rather than try tofinish work on nine of 11 separate 2007 spending bills left undone at the endof the last Congress.
For NASA,passage of the spending measure means that the agency will have to make duewith $16.2 billion for the year, about $544 million less than it had requestedfor 2007.
Hardest hitwill be the U.S. space agency's exploration program, which was counting onevery dollar of that proposed increase and more in order to keep development ofits proposed space shuttle replacement, the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle andAres 1 rocket, on track to enter service by 2014. NASA Administrator MikeGriffin said last week that denying the agency a budget increase jeopardizesthat schedule.
Once thepresident signs the measure into law, which needs to happen Feb. 15 to avoid apartial government shutdown, NASA has 30 days to submit to Congress anoperating plan detailing the budget cuts the agency intends to make to getthrough the year with a half-billion dollars less than it wascounting on.
Sen.Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), the chairman of the Senate Appropriationssubcommittee that deals with NASA, said she did the best she could for thespace agency given the circumstances.
"WhileI would have liked to have increased funding for NASA, there was simply notenough extra funding available for us to do so," Mikulski said in astatement. "Within the limits of NASA's  operating plan, weadded an extra $460 million to exploration while protecting other critical NASAprograms in science and aeronautics. With only seven months left in thisfiscal year, I believe NASA will be able to manage their programs inexploration with minimal impact to the overall schedule."