House and Senate Committee Actions Today Highlight Divide on NASA Funding

House and Senate Committee Actions Today Highlight Divide on NASA Funding

The Senate Appropriations Committee and the House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee each marked up their NASA bills today.  The markups themselves, not to mention the funding figures therein, demonstrate the magnitude of the divide between the two chambers on NASA’s FY2014 funding prospects.

Appropriations committees determine how much funding agencies like NASA will get.   Authorization committees, like the House SS&T Committee, set policy and recommend funding levels; they do not have any money to spend, however.

The latter point was stressed by Democrats on the House SS&T Committee who unsuccessfully sought to restore funds to NASA that were cut in the Republican version of the 2013 NASA authorization bill.  That bill (H.R. 2687) recommends that NASA receive $16.9 billion for FY2014, a significant cut from the President’s request of $17.7 billion.  Among the 35 amendments offered by Democrats today was a complete substitute for the Republican bill, crafted by Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), that recommended $18.1 billion.  Edwards is the top Democrat on the Space Subcommittee and she has introduced her plan as a separate bill, H.R. 2616.  She offered it as an amendment during subcommittee markup last week and again today.  It was defeated both times.  Her argument is that authorization committees need to set vision and goals and recommend the funding levels needed to achieve them, not focus on whether those funding recommendations fit within a specific budget envelope.  That is the job of appropriators, she insists.

Republicans remained adamant during markup today that their funding figures conform with the 2011 Budget Control Act and adopting the Democratic recommendations would be irresponsible.   The Republican version of the bill was approved by the committee on a party-line vote.  The top Democrat on the full committee, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), made an impassioned opening statement calling it a “terribly flawed piece of legislation.”  After it was reported from committee, committee Democrats issued a press release saying that Republicans had “set NASA up to fail.”  A major Democratic complaint is that the Republican bill does not provide the funding NASA needs to achieve the tasks required therein.   For their part, committee Republicans lauded their bill as making tough choices.  “That is our priority — to take the initiative, make decisions and govern,” committee chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) said.

Meanwhile, across Capitol Hill, the Senate Appropriations Committee made short work of marking up the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bill, which includes NASA.  The bill was marked up at subcommittee level on Tuesday in just a few minutes and the same was true this morning at the full committee level.  What little discussion there was focused on Department of Justice programs, not NASA or the other science and technology agencies in the bill.   The top Republican on that committee, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), reiterated that he will vote against the bill when it reaches the Senate floor because the $18.1 billion it approves is too high in his opinion, but he agrees with the priorities it sets and offered no amendments.

The current status of NASA’s FY2014 funding bills is as follows:

  • House:   The House Appropriations Committee yesterday approved $16.6 billion for NASA, even less than the $16.9 billion recommended by the House SS&T committee today in H.R. 2687.
  • Senate:  The Senate Appropriations Committee today approved $18.1 billion for NASA, the same as what is recommended in the Senate version of the authorization bill (S. 1317) introduced by Senators Bill Nelson and Jay Rockefeller yesterday. (It is also the same as the Edwards bill in the House, H.R. 2616.)

It is difficult to see how the House-Senate differences, which are Republican-Democratic differences, will be resolved.  The Republican-controlled House is working on total government funding figures approved in the House Budget Resolution that require cuts to agencies like NASA even more severe than what is required by the sequester.   The Democratic-controlled Senate made fundamentally different assumptions in its Budget Resolution, which is why Senate appropriators have much more money to work with.  As Politico commented at the time, the two Budget Resolutions “aren’t even apples and oranges.  They’re more like apples and bicycles.”


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