Edwards: "I Will Not Stand By Quietly"

Edwards: "I Will Not Stand By Quietly"

Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) vowed today to fight a Republican bill that would make dramatic cuts to NASA’s earth science program.  Edwards represents a district near NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, which builds, manages and operates many earth science missions.  The bill is scheduled for markup by the House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee on Thursday.

Edwards is the top Democrat on the House SS&T’s Space Subcommittee, which is chaired by Rep. Steve Palazzo (R-MS).   Palazzo is the sponsor of the legislation — the NASA Authorization Act for 2016 and 2017.  Committee Republicans revealed the legislation and the markup schedule last Friday. According to a copy of the proposed legislation obtained by SpacePolicyOnline.com, NASA’s earth science programs would be cut substantially.

Goddard itself is not in her Maryland district, but it surrounds Goddard and she worked at the Center as a contractor many years ago when she was employed by Lockheed (before it merged with Martin Marietta).  She is a strong supporter of all of NASA’s portfolio, not only Goddard programs, and often says, as she did today, that she personally wants to travel to Mars.

The two previous NASA authorization bills that passed the House, for 2014 and 2015, had bipartisan support.  The 2014 bill (H.R. 4412) passed the House on June 9, 2014 by a vote of 401-2; the 2015 bill (H.R. 810) passed unanimously on February 10, 2015 under suspension of the rules.  (The Senate never acted on the 2014 bill and it died at the end of the 113th Congress.  It has not yet acted on the 2015 bill.)

The bipartisanship that characterized the 2014 and 2015 bills was in sharp contrast to the discord surrounding a 2013 NASA authorization act that cleared the House SS&T committee on a  party line vote and never reached the floor of the House for consideration.  In that case, committee Republicans proposed deep cuts to earth science and other NASA programs to conform with budget caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA).  Edwards introduced a Democratic alternative that would have provided significantly more funding for NASA, including earth science.  The Democratic bill was defeated in the committee on party lines.

A key difference between the 2013 bill, and the 2014 and 2015 bills, is that the latter two included budget figures that already had been appropriated by Congress so did not require any new debates over funding.  The 2013 bill, and Palazzo’s 2016-2017 bill, recommend funding levels that Congress has not yet adopted.  Although there is bipartisan agreement on the policy provisions, it is the allocation of the money that is in dispute.  The Palazzo bill postulates two different funding scenarios — one in which the 2011 BCA caps are lifted and another in which they are not — but under either one, earth science would take a substantial cut.

During a speech today to the Space Transportation Association (STA), Edwards recalled that 2013 episode as a “debacle” and is “deeply, deeply, let me say that again, deeply, deeply, and deeply disappointed” by Palazzo’s bill that means the two parties are “poised” to go down the same path again with different Republican and Democratic approaches.   NASA needs a “United States Congress, both the House and the Senate, who are united about the direction and focus” of the agency and a multi-year authorization that does not “get caught up in silly
politics that nobody understands.”

When asked how she and fellow committee Democrats will respond to the Palazzo bill, Edwards said she is trying to talk to Palazzo and full committee chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) before the markup to determine if they can find common ground.  She noted that she and Palazzo have a “tremendous” working relationship that she hopes will prevail as the week unfolds.

She made it clear, however, that if agreement cannot be reached, she will fight the current version of the bill that puts at risk the 10,000 jobs at Goddard and would have “huge, deep, lasting” impacts on jobs in her district and at a place where she once worked:  “I will not stand by quietly and enable that to happen.”

Edwards has announced her candidacy for the Democratic nomination to succeed Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who is retiring at the end of her term in 2016.  Mikulski also is an ardent supporter of NASA, particularly programs at Goddard. 



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