Wicker, Cantwell to Lead Senate Commerce Committee; Appropriations Leadership Remains the Same

Wicker, Cantwell to Lead Senate Commerce Committee; Appropriations Leadership Remains the Same

The leadership of the key Senate committees and subcommittees that oversee civil and commercial space policy and funding are taking shape.  The Senate remains in Republican hands so there are fewer changes than in the House, but one committee — Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation — is getting both a new Chairman and a new Ranking Member.

The Senate Commerce committee authorizes activities for NASA, NOAA, and the FAA, and also has oversight of commercial space policy.  Legislation from that committee sets policy and, where appropriate, recommends funding levels, although the bills do not provide any money.  Only appropriations bills provide money.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi)

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) was officially named as the new Chairman of the committee today.  He replaces Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota) who moved up to become Senate Majority Whip.  NASA’s Stennis Space Center, best known for its rocket engine testing capabilities, is in Mississippi.

Wicker has been in the Senate since December 2007 and previously served in the House.  In the last Congress, he chaired the Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation and the Internet. In a statement today he said:

“The chairmanship is a great responsibility given the committee’s broad jurisdiction across diverse sectors of our economy. I look forward to serving alongside our new ranking member, Sen. Maria Cantwell, and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to build on the committee’s successes and continue moving our economy forward.”

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington)

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) is the new Ranking Member, replacing Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida), who lost his reelection bid.  She has been a Senator since 2000.

Washington is home to a number of commercial space companies.  According to the Washington State Department of Commerce, the space industry employs more than 6,200 workers and generates $1.76 billion in economic activity in the state. Among the companies with a major presence in Washington are Blue Origin (headquartered in Kent), SpaceX (building its Starlink communications satellites near Seattle),  Aerojet Rocketdyne (producing rocket engines in Redmond), and Stratolaunch (headquartered in Seattle).  NASA does not have a field center there, but two dozen Washington state companies are NASA suppliers.

A lot of unfinished business faces the Commerce committee this year on the space front.  The Space Frontier Act, crafted by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who will continue to chair the Space, Science, and Technology subcommittee, Nelson, and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), who has been subcommittee Ranking Member, failed to pass the House on December 21.   It dealt with commercial space regulatory issues, including the debate over whether the Department of Commerce or the Department of Transportation — both within this committee’s jurisdiction —  should regulate new types of commercial space activities. The bill failed because of opposition from the incoming chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee who felt issues within his committee’s jurisdiction over FAA were not adequately addressed, which may complicate House consideration of these issues.

Cruz and several cosponsors also introduced a bipartisan NASA authorization bill in the waning moments of the 115th Congress as a “legislative marker to build upon in the 116th Congress.”  NOAA does not have authorization bills, but the committee will be in charge of any confirmation hearings for a new NOAA Administrator.  President Trump’s nominee for the job, Barry Lee Myers, did not win Senate confirmation in 2017 or 2018, but there are signs he may be renominated this year.

The fate of FY2019 appropriations for NASA and NOAA remains in limbo because of the government shutdown.  The FY2020 request should be submitted to Congress the first Monday in February, but whether the Administration will meet that deadline is iffy.   The leadership of the Senate Appropriations Committee and its Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee, which funds NASA and NOAA, will remain the same:  Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) at the full committee level, and Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire) at the subcommittee.


User Comments

SpacePolicyOnline.com has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.