Senate Continues Work on Its Version of New NASA Authorization Bill

Senate Continues Work on Its Version of New NASA Authorization Bill

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee is continuing to work on a NASA authorization bill although its version may be for more than just one year.

The House passed a one-year NASA authorization bill (H.R. 4412) yesterday, meaning that its funding recommendations cover only FY2014, which is already in progress.  Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) said during floor debate that she wished the committee had been able to agree on a multi-year bill.

Last year the Senate committee approved a three-year bill on a party line vote.  A Senate aide confirmed to that the committee continues to work on that bill and its multi-year time span remains an important feature.

NASA’s authorizations are under the purview of the Senate Commerce Committee and the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.   Each committee approved bills last year, but intense disagreements between Republicans and Democrats over top-level funding caps – based on budget resolutions independently passed by the House and Senate using entirely different assumptions – resulted in the bills being approved on party line votes and they did not progress past the committees.

Following the Ryan-Murray budget agreement for FY2014 and FY2015 reached in December, budget tensions have eased, opening the door to greater bipartisan agreement as evidenced by the House bill.

The Senate committee similarly may be able to reach bipartisan agreement on budget matters now and the main issues will be in the policy arena.  One key will be whether the goal is for a two-year bill or if the committee pushes for maintaining the three-year time horizon.    A two-year bill would be for FY2014 and FY2015, the years covered by the Ryan-Murray agreement.  A three-year bill would take the budget recommendations into FY2016, which is unknown territory.

The sequester will return in FY2016 unless Congress again changes the law.  That may depend on the outcome of the November elections.  Currently the House is controlled by Republicans and the Senate by Democrats.   The House is expected to remain in Republican hands, but the Senate is up in the air.  If Republicans also gain control of the Senate, the Republican Party may fight for deeper government spending cuts and the sequester may be upheld. 

No timetable for Senate action is set, but the ball is in their court.

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