One of the most common complaints by space advocates is that, in the House and Senate appropriations committees, NASA is placed in the same subcommittee as the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development, as well as independent agencies like the NSF and EPA. (Not to mention the American Battle Monuments Commission.) NASA, the argument goes, is then forced to battle veterans programs, low income housing, and the environment to win its funding. There are new signs that this may be changing, but not without a fight.
In an essay in Thursday’s issue of Roll Call (republished on the web site of the Center for American Progress), former House staffer Scott Lilly notes that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is pushing an unspecified reorganization of the House Appropriations Committee. Lilly argues that this push comes, in part, because DeLay is concerned that it will be even harder to get more funding in NASA in the FY06 budget under the current subcommittee structure.
(There are a number of flaws in Lilly’s essay that go beyond the issue of restructuring the appropriations committee: he repeatedly, and inaccurately, refers to the Vision for Space Exploration as the “Moon-Mars Initiative” or the “$1 billion Moon-Mars Initiative”. He also uses a false dichotomy in arguing that this $1 billion would be better spent on “any reasonably popular activity”. It may be worth a post of its own, but I’m getting off on a tangent here.)
Later Thursday, CQ.com reported (subscription required) that Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), the new chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, is pushing ahead with a restructuring plan, presumably with DeLay’s endorsement. That plan would eliminate three subcommittees, including the VA-HUD-independent agencies subcommittee. (The District of Columbia and Legislative Branch subcommittees would also be eliminated.) The agencies currently under the VA-HUD subcommittee’s jurisdiction would be dispersed among other subcommittees: veterans programs to the Military Construction (!!) subcommittee, HUD to the Transportation-Treasury subcommittee, and the EPA to the Interior subcommittee. The report, unfortunately, doesn’t specify the fate of NASA; it could presumably go to Energy or also Transportation-Treasury (whose jurisdiction already includes a number of smaller independent agencies).
As both the CQ.com and Lilly articles note, this is far from a done deal: a number of senators, including Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO), who chairs the VA-HUD subcommittee in the Senate, strongly oppose this move. If the House went ahead with this restructuring without the Senate following suit, it could create chaos at budget time, since the House and Senate would have incompatible budget bills.