Congress Returns with A Full Plate of Space Issues Waiting

Congress Returns with A Full Plate of Space Issues Waiting

The House and Senate return from their summer break this week. They are scheduled to be in session for only a few weeks before adjourning in advance of the November mid-term elections. All 435 seats in the House and one-third of those in the Senate are up for election. Many pundits are predicting that the Republicans will regain control of the House, but the outcome is very difficult to forecast.

According to their websites, the House target adjournment date is October 8; the Senate calendar simply says “TBD” (to be determined), but is expected to adjourn at about the same time. Action is needed on a wide range of legislation, chief among them the appropriations bills that fund government departments and agencies. For the space policy community, the NASA and DOD authorization bills also are very important. (Not sure of the difference between an appropriation and an authorization? See our “What’s a Markup? fact sheet.)

Appropriations Bills

Congress Daily (subscription required) is skeptical that any of the 12 appropriations bills will be completed before Congress adjourns. Fiscal year 2011 begins on October 1, which means a Continuing Resolution (CR) must be passed to keep the government operating. Everyone expected a CR for most of the government agencies.

The House and Senate are in virtually opposite positions. The House has passed two appropriations bills (Transportation-HUD and Milcon-VA), but none of the other 10 have been reported from committee (although subcommittee markups have taken place for most of them). The Senate has passed no appropriations bills, but nine of the 12 have been reported from committee.

Here’s the status of the two appropriations bills that cover most space programs: Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS), which includes NASA and NOAA; and Defense (for the Department of Defense). In the House, the appropriations subcommittees for CJS and Defense have marked up draft bills, but neither bill has been reported from committee, which is usually when the bill is formally introduced. Thus there are no bills introduced yet. In the Senate, the CJS bill was reported from committee in July (S. 3636). Congress Daily reports that the Senate appropriations defense subcommittee may mark up its bill this Thursday.

Authorization Bills

The authorization bills for NASA and DOD also are awaiting action. The Senate passed its version of the NASA authorization bill (S. 3729) in early August just before adjourning. The House Science and Technology Committee reported its version (H.R. 5781) at the end of July, but committee chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) has publicly stated that the committee is reconsidering at least one aspect of its bill – on loan guarantees for commercial crew – so the version that reaches the House floor for debate will be different from what was reported. Some think the House and Senate will try to reach a compromise agreement before the end of September, but there is no indication that action is imminent (i.e., this week).

The DOD authorization bill was passed by the House in May (H.R. 5136), but Senator John McCain (R-AZ) objected to a unanimous consent request to bring the Senate version of the bill (S. 3454) to the floor because of his opposition to a provision that would repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Congress Daily characterizes the outlook for the bill as “murky.”

To keep track of these bills as they continue to work their way through Congress, check our fact sheet on Major Space-Related Legislation in the 111thCongress.

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