Brushingaside the threat of a presidential veto, the U.S. House of Representativespassed an over-budget spending measure July 26 that would provide $17.6 billionfor NASA for 2008.
The $53.8 billion Commerce, Justice,Science Appropriations bill (H.R. 3093) passed by a vote of 281 to 142 following two days of debatethat left the NASA portion largely unchanged from the amount that had emerged from the HouseAppropriations Committee two weeks earlier.
The funding included for NASArepresents a nearly $1.4 billion increase over the U.S. space agency?s2007 budget and roughly $300 million more than President George W. Bush hadrequested. With big increases for the Departments of Commerce and Justice addedin, the bill exceeds Bush?s request by $2.3 billion, prompting the White HouseOffice of Management and Budget to issue a written veto threat.
?[I]f H.R.3093 were presented to the President, he would veto the bill,? the White Housewrote.
Listedamong the objections was the inclusion of too much money for NASA science, aeronauticsand education programs.
?TheAdministration supports the House?s full funding for NASA?s Exploration Systemsand Space Shuttle. However, the Administration does not endorse funding inexcess of the request for Aeronautics, Education, and Science, where increasesfor near-term support would create unsustainable outyear funding requirements,?the White House wrote in its Statement of Administration Policy on H.R. 3093.
Although Republican lawmakers triedwithout success to bring the entire bill in line with Bush?s request byproposing across-the-board cuts, there were no direct raids on the NASAaccount. That stands in sharp contrast to last year when several lawmakers, includingRep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) attempted to strip NASA?s exploration budget orseverely restrict its use only to be trounced by a bipartisan core of NASA supporters,among them Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.)?Mollohan, now chairman of the HouseAppropriations Commerce, Justice, Science subcommittee that drafted H.R. 3093,took the lead during the two days of floor debate in defending the increaseabove the request that appropriators included in the measure for NASA.
?We have tried in a small way togive NASA the increases that it needs where the president has been negligent.The president?s budget request made an ambitious proposal in the Visionfor Space Exploration for the United States to return to the Moonand to eventually go to Mars; however, by all accounts, he did not fund hisvision adequately,? Mollohan said.
Mollohan pointed to the projectedfour-and-a-half year gap between the space shuttle?s September 2010, retirementand the March 2015, introductionof its successor, the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle and Ares I rocket, asproof of the inadequacy of Bush?s budget proposal for NASA.
Mollohan said Bush?s NASA budgets,not the stripped-down spending resolution Congress passed earlier this yeardenying most federal agencies, including NASA, a raise for 2007, is to blamefor the gap.
?Fullownership of this gap resides with the president. His unfunded mandate of thevision, as well as the fact that NASA had to pay for return to flight after theColumbia accident out of its own hide, has resulted in NASA being forced to robPeter ? science and aeronautics ? to pay for Paul: shuttle, space station andexploration,? Mollohan said. ?In the end there is not enough for either Peteror Paul.?
Mollohan,repeating a point he made earlier this year said the burden is on Bush toadequately fund the exploration vision he unveiled in January 2004.
?We invite him to reinvigorate andlegitimize the Vision for Space Exploration by asking for necessary funds for returningto the Moon and for going to Mars eventually, and for other key NASA missionsthrough a budget amendment or through an adequate fiscal year 2009 request. Otherwise,limited U.S. access to space and stagnation of key NASA programs will be, inthis area, the president?s legacy in space.?
Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fla.), a KennedySpace Center-area lawmaker and member of the House Appropriations Committee,said he shared Mollohan?s ?criticism that this gap in human space flight is notgood for America.?
?I am certainly anxious to work withthe administration and with the committee to see if it will be possible for usin the years ahead to reduce that time where Americans will be relying on theRussians, essentially, to put our astronauts into space,? Weldon said.
H.R. 3093includes report language crafted by Weldon that encourages NASA to accelerateits pursuit of a domestic commercial capability to put astronauts in space.?Weldon also defended the bill?sabove-request funding for NASA?s aeronautics program, saying the money is vitalto U.S. efforts to modernize its air traffic control systems.
While thebill funds NASA?s science, aeronautics and education accounts above the president?srequest, it shorts the agency?s $6.79 billion request for the Space OperationsMission Directorate ? which runs the space shuttle and space station programs ?by $100 million, most of which would come out of the Tracking and Data RelaySatellite System (TDRSS) procurement on tap for 2008. While NASA relies onTDRSS to communicate with the shuttle and station, the heaviest user of theaging system is the Defense Department, which pays the majority of TDRSSoperations costs.
Both Weldonand the White House Office of Management and Budget objected to the TDRSS cuts,as did Rep. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), the chairman of the House Science and Technologyspace and aeronautics subcommittee, who issued a statement saying he hoped thefunds could be restored when the House and Senate go to conference on thelegislation.
The Senatehas yet to vote on its version of the Commerce, Justice, Science spending bill,which cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee June 28 with $17.46 billionfor NASA, only about $150 million above the request. While the Senate versionalso would increase NASA?s science and education budgets above the requestedlevels, it would provide no additional dollars for aeronautics.
Senateappropriators also earmarked their bill with a heavier hand than Houselawmakers, including nearly $70 million in expenditures targeted at projects inlawmakers? home states. The House bill, in fact, does not include specificearmarks. Instead, it sets aside $20 million of NASA?s education budget to beused for science museums, planetariums and other local education projects to becompetitively selected by NASA.