A routine markup session by the House Science Committee’s on a long-awaited NASA authorization bill took a surprisingly partisan turn on Wednesday. While there is typically a strong sense of bipartisan cooperation among committee members, during Wednesday’s hearing Democratic members expressed their opposition to the authorization bill, HR 3070. Reps. Mark Udall (D-CO) and Bart Gordon (D-TN), the ranking Democrats on the subcommittee and full committee, respectively, complained both about the process of introducing the bill and its contents during the hearing. PArt of their concerns was that they did not get a chance to see a draft of the bill until last Friday, which they felt did not give them enough time to review it and suggest amendments to it. The other major concern, as expressed in a press release, was that the bill “does not address the issue of ensuring that a productive balance is maintained between NASA’s core missions”, including aeronautics and science as well as the Vision for Space Exploration. Most Democrats elected to abstain from passing the bill on to the full committee, rather than vote for or against it.
The subcommittee did, though, approve the bill, and HSC chairman Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) said the full committee would consider the bill next month, after the July 4 recess. Boehlert said he would work with Democrats on the committee to “craft a bi-partisan bill”. Even if that is accomplished, though, there is the issue that the House version of the authorization bill is significantly different from the Senate version, including a provision in the House bill mandating shuttle retirement by the end of 2010. The Senate’s version, by contrast, requires NASA to keep the shuttle flying if the CEV is not ready by that date. Subcommittee chairman Ken Calvert (R-CA) said that, despite such differences, he doesn’t “see any show stoppers” that would preclude a compromise.