It's Over — the 111th Congress Draws to a Close

It's Over — the 111th Congress Draws to a Close

At 6:00 pm today, the House adjourned “sine die” — without a day to reconvene. The Senate is expected to wrap up its work today as well, bringing the 111th Congress to a close. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is currently on the Senate floor summarizing the past two years.

Among last minute actions were the following:

  • The Senate ratified the New START treaty
  • The Senate passed a stripped down version of the FY2011 National Defense Authorization Act, sending it to the President
  • The House passed the Senate-amended version of the America COMPETES Act, sending it to the President
  • Both chambers passed a bill providing assistance to first responders and survivors of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, sending it to the President
  • Both chambers passed a bill modernizing the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) that requires each government agency to file publlicly an evaluation of its spending on a quarterly basis, sending it to the President

With House passage yesterday of the Senate version of another Continuing Resolution (CR), federal agencies can operate until March 4, 2011 — most, including NASA, at their FY2010 funding levels. The detailed language about NASA that was in the earlier House-passed year-long CR is defunct, so NASA did not get relief from the prohibition against cancelling the Constellation program or initiating a new effort until Congress approved such plans. It also did not get specific appropriations to begin development of a heavy lift launch vehicle with an initial lift capability of 130 tons as stated in the House-passed year-long CR. Instead, NASA will be guided by the language in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act that the vehicle have an initial launch capability of 70-100 tons, later growing to 130 tons. The difference in language is viewed as signalling whether a vehicle more closely based on the space shuttle should be built (the 70-100 ton language) versus a vehicle more akin to the Ares V (the 130 ton language).

NASA will operate for another three months at its FY2010 funding level of $18.7 billion instead of the $18.9 billion proposed in the year-long CR or the $19.0 billion level requested by the President. While this will complicate NASA’s planning for the future, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) did extract a commitment from Presidential Science Adviser John Holdren and NASA Chief Financial Officer Beth Robinson at a December 1 hearing that as long as NASA received close to what the President requested that the “Launch on Need” shuttle mission (STS-135) would take place. Senator Nelson specifically raised the possibility of NASA being held at the $18.7 billion level. Meanwhile, programs like earth sciences that were slated to get a significant increase in FY2011 will have to wait to see if that funding materializes next year.

The forecast is not bright for agencies like NASA that are part of non-defense discretionary spending. Republicans have vowed to cut those programs significantly in an effort to reduce the deficit.

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