Voters Choose the Status Quo

Voters Choose the Status Quo

The 2012 elections are over and the answer is — more of the same.   President Obama won reelection, the House remains in Republican hands and the Senate is still led by Democrats.

Despite widespread dissatisfaction with partisan bickering and Washington gridlock, the American electorate chose to keep things as they are.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney conceded the race after midnight and President Obama gave his victory speech beginning at about 1:30 am Eastern Standard Time.   President Obama won with a wide lead in the electoral college.  Votes were still being counted in some states, but at the time this article was written, he also had a slight edge in the popular vote.  As for Congress, the exact make-up of the House and Senate is somewhat uncertain as vote counting continues, but all the major news media are reporting that the party majorities have been determined. 

For space policy, the reelection of Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) was a key race because of his leading role in crafting the 2010 NASA authorization act, a three-year bill that expires at the end of FY2013.   Many in the space policy community anticipate that a new bill will be passed next year, but whether the gridlock that has enveloped Capitol Hill for the past several years will relax enough to allow replacement legislation to pass remains to be seen.   Space is one of the rare bipartisan issues in Congress, but the last two years has seen a dearth of legislation reaching the President’s desk because of more intransigent partisan divides.

Nelson was teamed with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) in winning Senate passage of the 2010 bill.  With her retirement, he will need another influential Republican Senator to garner Republican votes or at least avoid a filibuster.    Hutchison’s successor is another Republican, Ted Cruz, a tea-party Republican who “came from obscurity a year ago” according to the Houston Chronicle, which endorsed him.  The newspaper said it expected Cruz to represent the interests of Texas, including the space program, but little is available on the public record about his position on NASA and space policy issues.  Hutchison was particularly powerful because she was the top Republican not only on NASA’s authorizing committee, which writes policy, but its appropriations subcommittee that decides how much money NASA gets and how it must be spent.

In the House, Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) is expected to lose his chairmanship of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee because of term limits.  Another Texan, Rep. Lamar Smith, is one of three candidates vying to succeed him.  The other two are Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA).  Each would bring a very different leadership style to the committee, so that race is worth watching.

In terms of broad national space policy, however, President Obama’s reelection means stability, a positive development.  Space program advocates often complain that the space program is subject to policy whiplash when new presidents are elected.  With Oval Office continuity assured for another four years, the chief obstacle to forward movement will be budgets.

The fiscal cliff and all the other issues that framed the 2012 campaign still need to resolved as the country awakens to the election results.  There is no magic solution.  The Obama space policy may have a renewed lease on life, but finding the funds to execute the programs it envisions will remain an arduous task.

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