What's Happening in Space Policy September 7-11, 2015

What's Happening in Space Policy September 7-11, 2015

We’re back to “regular order” this week with our list of upcoming space policy related events only for one week (September 7-11, 2015).  The House and Senate return to work from their summer recess on Tuesday.

During the Week

Monday is a federal holiday (Labor Day), so Congress resumes legislative action on Tuesday, September 8.  It has quite a long to-do list for the month, including funding the federal government before Fiscal Year 2016 begins on October 1.  As pressing as that issue is, the first order of business is the Iran nuclear deal.  Pope Francis will visit Washington, D.C. September 22-24 and speak to a joint session of Congress on September 24 and that also will consume a lot of congressional attention.  

A deal on the budget, therefore, is not likely until the end of the month — if then.  The expectation is that a Continuing Resolution (CR) will be passed to cover the first few weeks of FY2016 since none of the 12 regular appropriations bills have cleared Congress.  The House has passed six,
including those that fund DOD, NASA, NOAA and the FAA’s Office of
Commercial Space Transportation.  The Senate has not passed any yet.

No legislative action on the budget is anticipated this week.  Instead, more voices likely will be raised warning of a possible government shutdown.  The leaders of the House and Senate have repeatedly vowed not to let that happen again.   Most view the 16-day shutdown in 2013 as a costly mistake both financially and politically.  Today some things are different — Republicans control both the House and Senate (the Senate was in Democratic hands in 2013).  But some are the same — the Tea Party wing of the Republican party has a politically volatile topic on which it wants to make a point.  Last time it was Obamacare, this time it is Planned Parenthood.   Another thing that is different is that this is presidential primary season and one of the contenders, Sen. Ted Cruz, was the leader of the 2013 shutdown.  He seems to believe it was a good thing, not the travesty others in his own party and elsewhere portray.  A shutdown could play in his favor in the primary among those who share his views. 

When Congress went into recess, it seemed that the debt limit also would have to be raised soon, adding to the complexity of getting a budget deal.  The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently calculated, however, that the Treasury Department can get by with the “extraordinary measures” it’s been using since the debt limit was reached in March and now has until mid-November or early December to continue paying bills by not investing in government retirement accounts.  (If you’re a government employee and wonder what exactly is going on with your retirement accounts in this regard, Government Executive has a good summary.  Treasury has done this before; the money eventually gets restored.)

Final action on the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, versions of which have passed the House and Senate, is possible at any time. The current prohibition on FAA issuing new regulations for commercial human spaceflight during a “learning period” expires on September 30 and both bills would extend it (the Senate bill until 2020; the House until 2025), so there is some motivation to get that done, though it will be a challenge with everything else on Congress’s plate.  As for a new NASA authorization bill?  The House has passed two bills (one for FY2015, which is ending, and one for FY2016 and FY2017), but there has been no action in the Senate.  The Senate Commerce Committee issued a report on August 11 listing the legislation it plans to focus on for the rest of the year and a NASA authorization was not included.  Congress-watchers know, however, that anything can happen at any time.

Perhaps the most notable events this week off the Hill are an interview with the current nine crew members aboard the International Space Station (ISS) on Tuesday morning Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) and the return to Earth of three of them on Friday EDT (Saturday local time at the landing site in Kazakhstan).  This is the first time since November 2013 that nine people have been on ISS at the same time.

Those events and others we know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.  Check back to look at our calendar on the right menu of our home page for additions as the week goes on.

Monday, September 7

  • U.S. Federal Government holiday (Labor Day)

Tuesday, September 8

Tuesday-Thursday, September 8-10

Wednesday-Friday, September 9-11

Thursday, September 10

Friday, September 11


Editor’s Note: the original version of this article said the House
bill extends the learning period to
2023, but it is 2025.  As introduced, it was 2023, but it was amended
during committee markup to 2025.

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