Today’s Tidbits: February 7, 2018

Today’s Tidbits: February 7, 2018

Here are our tidbits for February 7, 2018:  Congress getting closer to a budget deal; next Space Council meeting February 21 in Florida; Sierra Nevada gets go ahead for Dream Chaser cargo mission to ISS.  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

Congress Getting  Closer to a Budget Deal

It is not a done deal yet, but Senate Republican and Democratic leaders announced agreement on a two-year budget plan today.   It would set the top level of government discretionary spending for FY2018 and FY2019.  If the Senate and House can agree on the plan, it could break the logjam on government appropriations and, perhaps, raise the debt limit all in one package.

Conceptually, the process for funding the government begins with Congress passing a budget resolution that sets a limit on government spending for that fiscal year. Then the appropriations committees decide how to actually spend the money, allocating it among the various federal departments and agencies as grouped into 12 appropriations bills.

Congress passed the Budget Control Act (BCA) in 2011 that set spending caps for the next 10 years, but neither Republicans nor Democrats have been willing to stay within those draconian caps since FY2013, the only year they were implemented using across-the-board spending cuts calls sequestration.  The effects were so dire they have not wanted to do that again.  Deals were made to soften the caps first for FY2014-2015 and then for FY2016-2017.

The bipartisan deal announced today by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is backed by Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and Republican President Donald Trump.  It would allow substantially greater spending in FY2018 and FY2019 than the BCA caps allow, with consequent increases in the deficit.  The deal would add $160 billion over two years for defense spending and $128 billion over two years for non-defense spending, and provide $80 billion in disaster relief.

That would be in addition to the estimated $1.5 trillion that could be added to the deficit by the recently enacted tax reform bill.  This represents a turnaround for the Republican party. The Washington Post has a useful summary of how that position has evolved.  [].

Not surprisingly, some Republicans who have fought for deficit control over the past several years are very unhappy.  Leaders of the ultra conservative House Freedom Caucus have come out against it.  Although McConnell and Schumer appear confident it will pass the Senate, Ryan may need Democratic support to pass the bill in the House.  House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi made clear today, however, that she will not support it unless Ryan agrees to bring an immigration bill to the House floor for debate.  McConnell made a similar promise to Schumer three weeks ago in order to get the most recent CR passed.  Pelosi waged her own version of a filibuster in the House today, holding the floor for eight hours to make her case.

Meanwhile, the Treasury exceeded the debt limit last fall and has been using “extraordinary measures” to pay the government’s bills since then.  It will exhaust those measures by the first half of March so Congress must agree to raise the debt limit or the government will go into default.  Raising the debt limit was another hard fought battle time and again during the Obama Administration, but the congressional leadership and the White House reportedly plan to add it to the new budget deal.

Suffice it to say that the next 24 hours will be full of high stakes politics as Republicans and Democrats try to avoid another government shutdown, as happened three weeks ago.

Stay tuned.

Next Space Council Meeting February 21 in Florida

Sources confirm that the White House National Space Council will hold its next meeting on the morning of February 21, 2018 at Kennedy Space Center, FL.  The meeting will follow the same format as the first meeting last October. It will be open to the public and webcast.

Space Council Executive Secretary Scott Pace told the FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation conference today that the focus of the meeting will be views on regulatory reform according to a tweet from Jeff Foust (@jeff_foust) of Space News.

Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser Gets Go Ahead for ISS Cargo Mission

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) announced today that NASA has given authorization to proceed for a first launch of SNC’s Dream Chaser on a cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2020.

SNC was one of the three competitors for NASA’s commercial crew program, but was not selected.  It challenged the award, but lost.

It then competed for commercial cargo flights in NASA’s second Commercial Resupply Services (CRS2) opportunity and was awarded a minimum of six flights, joining current providers SpaceX and Orbital ATK who received similar awards.  Now it has a year for its first flight.

Dream Chaser looks like a small space shuttle, but is completely automated so no crew is required.  SNC completed a successful free flight in November.

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