House Appropriators Name Members for 117th Congress

House Appropriators Name Members for 117th Congress

The top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Kay Granger, released the names of the Republican members of the 12 subcommittees today. The Democratic members were named by committee chair Rep. Rosa DeLauro earlier this week. Although all congressional committees have important roles to play, it is only appropriators who have discretionary money to spend and these highly coveted assignments are among the most powerful in Congress.

The chair of the full committee in the 116th Congress retired, as did the chairs of the two subcommittees that fund most space activities, Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) and Defense.  That created openings at the top.

Full committee chair Nita Lowey (D-NY) was replaced by DeLauro (D-CT).  On CJS, which funds NASA and NOAA, José Serrano (D-NY) was replaced by Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA), who had been Vice Chair. For Defense, which funds DOD and the Intelligence Community, Pete Visclosky (D-CA) was replaced by Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), who was Vice Chair and also chaired the Interior-Environment subcommittee.

By contrast, the Republican leaders (Ranking Members) remain the same: Granger (R-TX) at full committee; Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) for CJS; and Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) for Defense.

In addition to Cartwright taking over the chairmanship of the CJS subcommittee, there are several other changes. Two Democratic members from Maryland, Dutch Ruppersberger and David Trone have joined, while Marcy Kaptur (OH) left.  On the Republican side, Martha Roby (AL) retired. Ben Cline from Virginia and Mike Garcia from California joined the subcommittee.

Except for McCollum becoming chair of the Defense Subcommittee, the membership remains the same.  Several serve on both Defense and CJS.

It is far too early to foresee what the changes in the Democratic leadership positions may portend for space.  Constituent interests usually play a major role in setting priorities for any member of Congress, though that is not always true for NASA.  Serrano was a strong supporter of NASA even though no NASA centers or major aerospace industries were in his Bronx district.  Cartwright’s northeastern Pennsylvania district similarly lacks direct ties to NASA, but he is enthusiastic about the small business opportunities NASA spending could produce.

Still, there are limits. Despite support from Serrano and Cartwright as well as members who do have strong constituent interests, such as Aderholt whose district is near Marshall Space Flight Center, the CJS subcommittee recommended flat funding for NASA in FY2021. The final compromise with the Senate provided a bit more, but still far less than requested.

Democrats and Republicans have long argued over the balance between defense and non-defense spending, a fight likely to resume in earnest with Democrats now in control of the House, Senate, and White House, all at a time of a once-unimaginable $3 trillion deficit due to COVID-19 relief packages. National security space activities are a tiny portion of defense spending (about $18 billion for DOD in FY2021 out of $696 billion total), but still can be buffeted in those larger debates.

All that can be said at this point in time is that it will be a particularly difficult budget year, and considering how tough they have been for the past decade, these members have their work cut out for them.



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