Nelson Pessimistic About NASA Authorization Bill, Implores Aerospace Community to Help

Nelson Pessimistic About NASA Authorization Bill, Implores Aerospace Community to Help

Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) offered a grim assessment on Wednesday of the chances of a NASA authorization bill, or any budget-related legislation, clearing Congress this year.  As for the draft House bill, he made clear that he will not accept a $16.8 billion funding level for the space agency for future years as that bill proposes and implored the aerospace community to help get NASA a better funding level.

Nelson minced no words during a noontime talk to the Space Transportation Association, less than an hour after a House subcommittee ended a hearing on the draft House bill.  He said funding NASA at $16.8 billion for FY2014 and FY2015 would “run NASA into a ditch.”  That is the same as what NASA got for FY2013 after adjustments for the sequester and other congressionally-imposed across-the-board cuts.  The cuts were required to meet the budget levels enacted in the 2011 Budget Control Act.

He especially objected to the House bill’s cuts to the Earth science budget and rhetorically asked whether anyone thought Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee and is a strong advocate of NASA and its Earth science program, would ever accept it.  The House bill proposes cutting one-third of the Earth science budget compared to the FY2014 request.

Nelson, who chairs the science and space subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, plans to introduce his own bill in the Senate.  He expects full committee markup before mid-July, but postulated that it might come down to a partisan vote for the “first time in my memory.”  Even if there is a bipartisan NASA authorization bill,  he said, his “sobering message” is that the situation in Congress today is “nothing but chaos.  Here is my prediction.  With the intransigence that you see in the body politic in the Republican party today … all of these decisions are going to be delayed until the moment of truth, which is the raising of the debt limit.”   He went on to say that because of the improving economy, that probably will be at the end of the year.  Recalling what happened at the end of last year, he said he would not be surprised if Congress ends up meeting on Christmas Eve to make final decisions on budgets, tax reform and other economic issues. 

Nonetheless, he was bullish about the space program and praised the progress NASA is making despite the $16.8 billion it received for the current fiscal year, about $900 million less than its $17.7 billion request.  But he will not support continuing to fund the agency at that level.

He tried to rally those in the room — mostly aerospace industry representatives —  to fight for a higher NASA budget.   He told the audience to “stop playing nicey nicey with these people who want to whack NASA because they are wedded to an ideology that doesn’t make sense.”  It is OK to cut budgets, “but not in an idiotic way.”  “You’ve got to stop being neutral.  Too many of you in this room have been neutral because you don’t want to offend those people that are trying to enact this policy. I would beg you on behalf of our nation’s space program, help us get some common sense injected into the budgetary and appropriations policy.  That’s my message.”

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