House Democrats Plan to Pass Senate Version of FY2019 Appropriations for NASA, NOAA

House Democrats Plan to Pass Senate Version of FY2019 Appropriations for NASA, NOAA

As the partial government shutdown continues, including NASA and NOAA, the 116th Congress will begin at noon tomorrow.  An impasse over funding President Trump’s border wall is preventing passage of seven of the 12 FY2019 appropriations bills although border security funding is in only of them, the Homeland Security bill.  The fate of the other six is politically intertwined at the moment, but Democrats will try to remedy that as one of their first acts tomorrow when they take control of the House.  They plan to combine and pass Senate versions of the six bills, including Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS), which funds NASA and NOAA.  Homeland Security will be dealt with separately.  It is not at all clear that the Republican-led Senate and Trump will agree.  A meeting of congressional leaders and Trump at the White House is scheduled for this afternoon.

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), incoming chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee

The six appropriations bills will be combined into a Consolidated Appropriations Act that provides funding for the rest of FY2019, not a temporary Continuing Resolution (CR).  Only the Department of Homeland Security would be funded by a CR through February 8, 2019.  That would maintain the current level of funding for border security, not the additional funds Trump wants.  He has said he will not sign a bill that does not include that funding and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) insists he will not bring a bill to the floor for a vote unless he knows Trump will sign it.

Republicans control both the House and Senate until tomorrow at noon.  At that point Democrats take control of the House and political dynamics on Capitol Hill will change.

The likelihood of the House Democratic plan being enacted into law seems tenuous at the moment, but with the partial government shutdown well into its second week, pressure is mounting for some sort of resolution.

The six bills that are being merged are:

  • Agriculture
  • Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS)
  • Financial Services and General Government
  • Interior-Environment
  • State and Foreign Operations
  • Transportation-Housing and Urban Development (THUD)

Four of those (Agriculture, Financial Services, Interior-Environment, and THUD) were combined into “Minibus-3,” which passed the House and Senate and was already in conference.  The other two (CJS and State-Foreign Ops) were reported from the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, but have not been voted on by the House or Senate.

If Congress does adopt the Senate committee’s version of the CJS bill, it means less money for NASA, and more money for NOAA’s satellite programs, than if the House committee’s version was enacted.  The CJS bill was approved by the House Appropriations Committee in May and the Senate Appropriations Committee in June.  Details about what the committees approved for NASA and NOAA are in’s fact sheets on NASA’s FY2019 Budget Request and NOAA’s FY2019 Request for Satellites

The Senate committee approved $21.323 billion for NASA.  While that is an improvement over the President’s request of $19.892 billion, it is less than the House committee version, which recommended $21.546 billion.

NOAA’s satellite programs did better in the Senate committee than the House committee, both of which were more than the President’s request.  The Senate committee approved $1.498 billion, compared to the House committee’s $1.412 billion and the request of $1.399 billion.

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), the incoming chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee explained the plan and the committee’s Democratic website provides summaries of each of the bills.  The NASA section of the CJS summary is as follows:

Excerpt from House Appropriations Committee Democrats’ summary of proposed FY2019 Commerce-Justice-Science section of Consolidated Appropriations Bill to be considered on January 3, 2019.

The committee’s summary does not provide enough detail to show the budget for NOAA’s satellite programs.

Among the major differences for NASA between the House and Senate committee versions based on their respective bills and accompanying explanatory statements —

  • Science:
    • the Senate provides $6.400 billion for science, compared to $6.681 billion in the House (the request was $5.895 billion)
    • the Senate is more explicit than the House about rejecting the Administration’s cuts to NASA’s Earth science programs and provides significantly less money for planetary exploration than the House ($2.202 billion, compared to the House committee’s $2.759 billion and the request of $2.235 billion)
    • both reject the Administration’s proposal to terminate the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), but the Senate provides $325 million to keep it on track for a 2025 launch, while the House provides $150 million
  • the Senate rejects the Administration’s proposal to restructure NASA’s budget and eliminate the Space Technology Mission Directorate, while the House adopts most of it;
  • both reject the Administration’s proposal to eliminate funding for activities in NASA’s Office of Education, but the Senate provides more funding ($110 million) than the House ($90 million);
  • both reject the Administration’s proposal to restructure the RESTORE-L satellite servicing program, but the Senate provides more money ($180 million) than the House ($130 million), both of which were much more than the request ($45.3 million);
  • both provide the same amount of funding for SLS and Orion, and approve the new Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway and Cislunar/Surface Capability programs, but it is difficult to track other actions in human spaceflight and technology development because the account structures for those programs are different in the two bills;
  • the Senate adds $255 million to Exploration Ground Systems for a second Mobile Launch Platform and associated SLS activities.
  • both restrict U.S.-China space cooperation by NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, but the House bill also includes the White House National Space Council.

For NOAA’s satellite programs, the major differences based on the House and Senate Appropriations Committees’ explanatory statements include —

  • the Senate adopted, while the House rejected, the Administration’s proposal to merge the JPSS and Polar Follow On (PFO) programs; and
  • the Senate provided, without explanation, $37.9 million for the Cooperative Data and Rescue Services (CDARS) account, an increase of $37.4 million above the request and the House committee-approved amount.

Using the Senate versions of the bills likely is an effort by House Democrats to encourage Senate agreement.  Minibus-3 passed the Senate 92-6 and the two bills reported by committee also had broad bipartisan support.  State-Foreign Ops cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee on a 31-0 vote and CJS on a 30-1 vote.

The House can pass appropriations bills with a simple majority vote.  The Senate requires 60 votes.  As of tomorrow at noon, there will be 235 Democrats and 199 Republicans (with one seat still undecided) in the House. The Senate will have 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats, and two Independents who caucus with the Democrats.

Whatever Congress passes, however, requires the signature of the President.  (Congress can override a veto, but it requires a 2/3 vote of each chamber and is rare.)  Whether they come closer to agreement this afternoon or not remains to be seen.  Immigration is seen as a key issue to winning the 2020 presidential election, so the political stakes are quite high.

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