Mikulski: Number One Goal for NASA Budget — Do No Harm

Mikulski: Number One Goal for NASA Budget — Do No Harm

In her 27th and final speech to the Maryland Space Business Roundtable as a member of Congress, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) today continued her strong advocacy for NASA.  While not providing any specifics about what will happen this week as the Senate Appropriations Committee marks up the FY2017 funding bill that includes NASA and NOAA, she said her first goal is “do no harm.”   She predicts the bill will be voted on by the full Senate in two-three weeks, which would be a significant accomplishment.  The Senate has not passed any of the 12 stand-alone appropriations bills in several years.

Mikulski is retiring at the end of this year.  She has served in Congress since 1977, first as a member of the House (1977-1987), and then as a Senator.   A social worker by training, her enthusiasm for NASA, NOAA and other federal government science programs grew over time along with her influence in their progress as she rose through the ranks of the appropriations committee.   She was the first woman chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee in the last Congress, when Democrats controlled the Senate.  Today she is the top Democrat on the full committee and the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee that funds NASA and NOAA.

At today’s luncheon, she said she was meeting with the current CJS subcommittee chair, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), this afternoon to finalize their recommendations for the FY2017 CJS bill, which will be formally marked up at subcommittee level tomorrow afternoon.  Full committee markup is on Thursday.  She joked that “I’ve got my shoulders squared, I’ve got my lipstick on, I’ve got my agenda” and “we’re armed and ready” to fight for three principles:

  • Do no harm — no sequester, no government shut down;
  • Capitalize existing programs — including the James Webb Space Telescope and other space science programs — to  make certain they are adequately funded; and
  • Ensure a balanced program of human exploration, reliable space transportation, and aeronautics.

“We will make sure that we will have the resources we need to keep NASA going … exactly in the direction that it’s going in and I will do everything I can to find targeted funding for the new opportunities and the new possibilities…”

She added that she would also strive to make sure there is adequate funding for NOAA’s weather satellites and other activities (like fisheries), as well as the National Science Foundation, which is funded in the same bill.

She insisted that the bill would go to the Senate floor in the next two-three weeks.

Noting that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), wants to add $17 billion more for defense, she said she would not fight that effort, but in return she wants to add $17 billion more for science.

“We need to stand up for the future … and we need to stand up for science, we need to stand up for discovery, we need to stand up for exploration. It is in our national DNA and…  we need to fund it in a way that is sustainable and reliable and undeniable that when you start a project … you can carry it all the way through.”

She continued that “we need to stand up for our scientists.”  Not only do they need to be assured of jobs after getting their degrees, but “scientists should not subpoened to talk to the United States Senate … shouldn’t be badgered in the budget … and we shouldn’t pull the plug on them.”

Mikulski stressed that although she is retiring from the Senate, she plans to remain involved in supporting science by “putting my energy into young people.”  

“Don’t think I’m retiring.  Think of me aboard a rocket ship.  I’m moving to a new launch pad and I’m ready to blast off and I’m going to say —  May the Force Be With You.”


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