NASA Authorization Bill Easily Passes the House – UPDATED

NASA Authorization Bill Easily Passes the House – UPDATED

UPDATE, June 10, 2014:  This article was updated with the names of the two members who voted against the bill and a link to the Congressional Record page where the full roster of votes is available.

ORIGINAL STORY, June 9, 2014: The House passed the 2014 NASA Authorization Act, H.R. 4412, today under a legislative procedure called suspension of the rules.  No amendments are allowed under that procedure, which is used for bills expected to be non-controversial.  The bill passed by a vote of 401-2. 

The chairmen and ranking members of the full House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee and its Space Subcommittee were the main speakers:  Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Rep. Steve Palazzo (R-MS), and Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD).   The only other speakers were committee members Randy Weber (R-TX) and Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR).

Bipartisanship was the order of the day, although all three Democrats noted how far the two sides had come since last year when sharp political divisions on an earlier version of the bill resulted in tense party-line votes in committee.   Much of the rancor was because Republicans were working under strict budget limits adopted by the House for FY2014 while Democrats rejected those limits.   In December, the Ryan-Murray budget agreement for FY2014 and FY2015 eased those limits, which has enabled significantly greater cooperation between the two parties on many issues this year, including authorization and appropriations legislation.

Much of today’s discussion focused on the need for the long-term human spaceflight plan required by the bill – a Human Exploration Roadmap.  That provision is strongly supported by both Republicans and Democrats.   The report released last week by the National Research Council on the future of the human exploration program was repeatedly cited as the type of plan they are hoping to get from NASA.

Not surprisingly, Republicans continued their criticism of President Obama’s cancellation of the Constellation program and the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) he proposed to replace it.   However, Democrats did not come to the defense of ARM and just as enthusiastically supported the need for a new roadmap.

Palazzo said the human spaceflight program has been “adrift” since Constellation ended and the country “can’t keep changing our program of record every time there’s a new President.”   The bill does not require that NASA reinstate lunar surface missions to its human exploration plan, but Palazzo noted that the NRC report pointed to the “significant contributions” such missions could provide for the longer term goal of human landings on Mars.

Republicans and Democrats agreed it was “not a perfect bill,” but they supported it because there was broad agreement on so many topics.  Palazzo said he would continue to raise concerns about certain issues, however, including “distractions” like ARM and the need for adequate funding for the Space Launch System (SLS).

The funding recommendations in the bill are only for FY2014, which is already underway so are not very important.   Edwards said she would have preferred a multi-year authorization, but this bill is “foundational” and provides important policy guidance.

The two “nay” votes were cast by Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) and Mark Sanford (R-SC).  Thirty members did not vote.  A full roster of the votes is printed in the Congressional Record

The final version of the bill as reported from committee is available on the Library of Congress THOMAS website, but not the accompanying report.  (The report number is there, H. Rept. 113-470, but it does not link to anything yet.)

The next step is Senate action.   Like the House SS&T committee, last year the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committee approved a bill on a party line vote.  There has been no committee action this year.

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