What’s Happening in Space Policy December 27, 2020-January 2, 2021

What’s Happening in Space Policy December 27, 2020-January 2, 2021

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of December 27, 2020-January 2, 2021 and any insight we can offer about them. The House meets on Monday; the rest of the congressional schedule is in flux.

During the Week

To be honest, we hoped to have a break this week and not post a “What’s Happening” episode, but turns out this will be a pivotal week for government-funded space programs.

First, welcome to the final week of the 116th Congress. It ends, and the 117th  Congress begins, at noon next Sunday, January 3, 2021.

Second, welcome to another Sunday under a shutdown threat.  Yes, all government activities funded in appropriations bills except those deemed essential will have to cease at midnight tomorrow (Monday) if President Trump does not sign the Consolidated Appropriations/COVID-19 relief bill Congress passed last Monday.


Almost unnoticed, along with that bill, H.R. 133, Congress also passed another Continuing Resolution (CR). The CR under which the government was operating expired that day (December 21) at midnight and it was obvious they could not get this new, full-year appropriations bill to the President in time for him to sign it by then. It passed the Senate at about 11:45 pm ET. So they used a novel approach to get a new CR passed by the House, which then passed the Senate and was signed by the President extending the CR to December 28.

At the time, everyone — including the White House team negotiating the deal — had agreed on the content of H.R. 133. The week-long CR was needed only because it would take a number of days to “enroll” (check for typos, etc.) the 5,593 page document and send it to the President’s desk for signature.

To everyone’s surprise, however, the next day Trump raised objections to the bill. They are not space-related. He has not said explicitly he would veto it, but it was delivered to him on Thursday and he has not signed it yet. Whether he will between now (Sunday morning) and tomorrow night, or if Congress will pass another CR, or most of the government will shut down due to a lapse in appropriations is anyone’s guess.

The House will be in session tomorrow anyway to try and override Trump’s veto of the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), H.R. 6395.  If the attempt is successful, the Senate will meet on Tuesday to begin its process to attempt to override it.

Both bills are critical for space programs.

H.R. 6395 authorizes activities at DOD including the U.S. Space Force and U.S. Space Command. If it does not get enacted before the 117th Congress starts, the legislative process will have to begin again with the new membership of the House and Senate. How many Republicans in either chamber who voted for the bill but will nonetheless side with their President and not agree to override the veto also is anyone’s guess. The top Republicans on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees (Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-TX, and Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-OK), usually among Trump’s strongest congressional allies, are urging their colleagues to save the bill because it is essential for national security.  It takes a two-thirds vote of each chamber to override a veto.

H.R. 133 funds all the departments and agencies involved in space activities, not just DOD and the Intelligence Community, but NASA, NOAA (including its Office of Space Commerce), FAA and others. Essential operations, like the International Space Station and spacecraft already in space, will continue, but it would be yet another disruption for most everything else.

How much impact a shutdown would have depends on how long it lasts. As a reminder, Trump caused a 35-day shutdown from December 21, 2018-January 25, 2019 as the 115th Congress ended and the 116th began.

That’s part of what creates a sense of déjá vu in all this. That 35-day shutdown happened after Trump had agreed on a deal to keep the government open, but changed his mind after criticism from some conservative members of Congress and media voices over border wall funding. In the end he signed a bill that was the same as the one he rejected except for the expiration date.

But these are incredibly different times from two years ago because of COVID-19.  FY2021 appropriations are tied to another COVID-relief bill to extend unemployment benefits and other measures to help those most severely affected.  In fact, one of Trump’s objections is that H.R. 133 does not provide sufficient money to individuals.  It gives $600 per person (subject to income limits) and he wants $2,000, thereby aligning himself with congressional Democrats who tried to get the higher level, but were thwarted by congressional Republicans. The $600 was the compromise.

It’s a topsy-turvy world.  All we can say, again, is that it’s anyone’s guess as to what happens next.

Congress meets whether or not there’s a lapse in appropriations.

In terms of space-related conferences, webinars, advisory committee meetings and so forth, we know of only one:  Thursday’s webinar by the Aerospace Corporation on Future Mapping for Space in 2021.

So except for the intense drama on Capitol Hill and at the White House, we have a few days to get ready for the New Year.  Someone on Twitter noted that we will be entering 2021, which is pronounced as 2020-won, a funny but sobering thought.

Whatever happens between now and then, we wish all of you a safe and Happy New Year!


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