HASC Tees Up First Space Hearing as 117th Congress Settles In

HASC Tees Up First Space Hearing as 117th Congress Settles In

The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) will hold the first space-related hearing of the 117th Congress next week.  Between the January 6 failed insurrection, the inauguration of President Biden, and the second impeachment trial of former President Trump, Congress is off to an uneasy start this year. The key committees that set policy and funding for space activities now at least have decided on their memberships and are gearing up for action.

Senate committees have held a few hearings and markups for some of Biden’s nominees for cabinet-level positions, but the more substantive policy work has been waiting until committee rosters could be finalized.  Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) first needed to agree on a power-sharing arrangement in the 50-50 Senate now under Democratic control because the Vice President, Democrat Kamala Harris, holds the tie-breaking vote. Oddly, the nomination hearings took place with Republicans still holding the gavels.

That deal is finally done. By and large, the individuals who were Chairs and Ranking Members (RMs) in the last Congress simply swapped places.

For space programs, the two most important policy-setting authorization committees are Senate Armed Services (SASC) and Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation (for NASA, NOAA and FAA).  Only appropriations committees have money to spend and the Defense Subcommittee and Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) Subcommittee fund national security and NASA/NOAA programs respectively.

At SASC, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) is now chair and Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) is RM.  SASC’s Strategic Forces subcommittee oversees DOD space programs. Sen. Angus King (I-ME) is taking the chair of that subcommittee instead of Sen. Martin Heinrich, who was RM, because Heinrich moved to the appropriations committee. Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE), who was chair, is now RM.  Among the subcommittee’s other members is former astronaut and Navy pilot Mark Kelly (D-AZ).  Kelly also got a SASC subcommittee chairmanship himself — Emerging Threats and Capabilities — even though he is a freshman, an unusual if not unprecedented distinction.

At  Senate Commerce, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) now is chair and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) is RM.  Cantwell is the first woman ever to chair the committee and during a February 11 committee organizational meeting noted that the panel has 10 women members, the most of any Senate committee. How much that factors into the topics the committee chooses to focus on remains to be seen. Subcommittee assignments have not been posted yet.

Senate Appropriations is now chaired by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), with Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) as Vice Chair.  The CJS subcommittee has Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) as chair and Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) as RM. The Defense Subcommittee is one of the few places where there is a new face at the helm. Sen. John Tester (D-MT) is chair because Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) chose to take the Senate Judiciary Committee chairmanship instead.  Shelby, who was subcommittee chair in the last Congress, is now RM.

Shelby, 86, has announced that he will not run for reelection in 2022. He will continue to be a powerful advocate for defense and NASA space activities in Alabama for the next two years, however.

The House remains under Democratic control, but retirements or election losses made way for a number of committee or subcommittee leadership changes on that side of Capitol Hill.

HASC still has Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) as chairman, but Mac Thornberry retired and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) is now RM.  Rogers was one half of the bipartisan duo with Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) who started the effort that led to creation of the U.S. Space Force. They worked together on the Strategic Forces subcommittee that Cooper now chairs. Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH) became the subcommittee’s RM in the last Congress and continues in that role now.

That subcommittee will hold the first space-related hearing of the 117th Congress on Tuesday where four experts will discuss “Near-Peer Advancements in Space and Nuclear Weapons.”

  • Gen. Robert Kehler (Ret.), Senior Fellow at the National Defense University, who was commander of Air Force Space Command before commanding U.S. Strategic Command (2011-2013);
  • Madelyn Creedon, Brookings Institution, who served in high level positions at the National Nuclear Security Administration, DOD, and on SASC;
  • Todd Harrison, Director of Defense Budget Analysis and Director of the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; and
  • Tim Morrison, Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute and former deputy assistant to President Trump for national security.

On the House Appropriations Committee, Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) succeeds Nita Lowey as chair (Lowey retired), while Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) continues as RM.  The chairs of the CJS and Defense subcommittees (José Serrano and Pete Visclosky) also retired.  Their successors are Matt Cartwright (D-PA) and Betty McCollum (D-MN), respectively.  Both were Vice Chairs of the subcommittees last year.  Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) and Ken Calvert (R-CA) remain RMs.

On the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) will continue as Chairwoman and RM of the full committee. Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) is the new chair of the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, replacing Kendra Horn who lost her bid for reelection. Virginia may not be as well known as other “space states” but is home to NASA’s Langley Research Center near Norfolk and NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), owned by the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.  Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX) is still the subcommittee’s RM. House SS&T hearings have been almost entirely focused on COVID-19 since the pandemic began and its first hearing is again on that topic.

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