House Committee Clears Reconciliation Bill With $4.4 Billion for NASA

House Committee Clears Reconciliation Bill With $4.4 Billion for NASA

A House committee approved $4.4 billion for NASA today as part of its $45 billion portion of the Build Back Better human infrastructure bill. Over 30 amendments were debated. Several were adopted, but none that affected NASA’s funding. The money is on top of NASA’s regular appropriations. While good news, it is far less than the $15.7 billion NASA Administrator Bill Nelson hoped to secure and none is for a second lunar lander for the Artemis program.

Congress is considering President Biden’s $4.5 trillion proposal to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure in two parallel bills.  A $1 trillion bill that funds roads, bridges, rail and other physical infrastructure projects has bipartisan support and passed the Senate last month.

The remaining $3.5 trillion has only Democratic support and funds social programs, climate change research and other priorities that have come to be called human infrastructure. Since no Republicans support it, Democrats are using a budgetary process called reconciliation that can pass the Senate with a simple majority of 51.  It begins with passing a Budget Resolution that sets spending limits and directs authorizing committees to write conforming legislation. That process is now underway.

The House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee was directed to come up with legislation allocating $45 billion over 10 years for agencies within its jurisdiction, which includes NASA and NOAA. The Democratic draft bill included $4.4 billion for NASA: $4.0 billion to fix or modernize facilities at NASA centers across the country; $388 million for climate change research and development (R&D); and $12 million for associated activities in information technology and cybersecurity ($7 million) and oversight by NASA’s Inspector General ($5 million).

Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas)

Republicans offered a number of amendments to the NASA portion of the bill, including one by Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX) that would have eliminated the funding for climate R&D, added that $388 million to the $4.0 billion, and made all of it available for either infrastructure or human exploration. Babin is Ranking Member of the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee. His district includes NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

Babin argued that the amendment would add flexibility to how NASA could spend the money and was closer to what Nelson requested. The bulk of Nelson’s $15.7 billion request, $10 billion, was for a second Human Landing System (HLS) for the Artemis program. Another $5.4 billion was for facilities, and the remainder was for lunar spacesuits and nuclear propulsion development for eventual human trips to Mars. If adopted, the $4.388 billion could have been spent on any of those projects. He expressed astonishment that the committee would “ignore” NASA’s human exploration program and “turn a blind eye to the challenge that the Chinese Communist Party represents.”

Democrats opposed the amendment both because it would eliminate the climate change R&D money and because they want the $4 billion spent on fixing NASA’s physical infrastructure. The space subcommittee held a hearing on NASA’s “urgent” infrastructure needs in July and Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) said it convinced him that NASA needs a “solid infrastructure” if it is going to achieve any of its goals. “It’ll be a lot of jobs and it will get NASA into a place where it is competitive and surpasses China and Russia and everybody else, but we can’t keep deferring maintenance.”

The amendment failed 17-19.

Other NASA amendments that also failed would have allocated $20 million of the climate change R&D funding for commercial data buys (Babin), specified that some of the climate change funds be used for instruments for particular studies (Bice), added safety to the list of sustainable aviation projects funded by the climate change funds (Ellzey), and required NASA’s Inspector General to investigate attempts by China to steal, exploit or compromise space technology (Posey).

One NASA amendment was adopted. Proposed by Rep. Randy Feenstra (R-IA), it adds “sustainable aviation biofuels” to the projects that can be funded by the money allocated for climate change R&D.

Two other space-related amendments were offered to the NOAA portion of the bill.

Babin sought to elevate NOAA’s Office of Space Commerce (OSC) to the Office of the Secretary of Commerce and allocate $20 million to acquire commercial space situational awareness (SSA) data and services to establish the Open Architecture Data Repository (OADR). Elevating OSC and funding its SSA and Space Traffic Management efforts has been debated for many years and Babin has introduced other legislation to that end.  The amendment was defeated 17-21, with committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) objecting that it would take money from NOAA’s research on weather and climate change, and the issue of OSC’s location should be dealt with through the regular appropriations and authorization process.

Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK), Ranking Member of the full committee, wanted to allocate $25 million of the NOAA funding for commercial data purchases of space weather data as part of a pilot program established by the PROSWIFT Act last year. Perlmutter was one of the leaders in getting that legislation passed, but he opposed the amendment because the pilot program is not ready yet.  The amendment was defeated by voice vote.

Lucas made it clear from the beginning of the markup that he would vote against the bill regardless of the outcome of the amendments.  He and all the other Republicans did and Lucas issued a scathing press release about the “reckless, partisan spending bill.”

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