Congress, NASA

House leadership willing to support NASA budget increase

The Democratic leadership of the House, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, now appears inclined to support the so-called “Mikulski miracle”, the $1 billion added by the Senate to the NASA budget in its version of the FY08 appropriations bill approved earlier this week. “In the House there’s some increased interest in keeping that $1 billion in the CJS [Commerce, Justice, and Science] appropriations bill,” said Congressman Mark Udall (D-CO), speaking at a Space Transportation Association breakfast on Capitol Hill Thursday morning. “The Speaker understands how important this is.” The House version of the bill, passed this summer, doesn’t have that extra $1 billion, so its immediate fate lies in the hand of the conference committee that will reconcile that and other differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. “There are some positive indications from the Speaker’s office and the appropriations committee” that the House would be favorably disposed to keeping the money in the final version of the bill, Udall said.

Udall was initially reticent to go into more details about why the House leadership now seemed willing to support the money, saying at one point that it simply “flat out makes sense to do this.” A member of the audience later said that Paul Carliner, a staffer on the Senate Appropriations Committee, worked with Rep. Nick Lampson (D-TX), and Lampson then approached Pelosi and got her to support the funding. Lampson, of course, is a big supporter of NASA and has JSC in his home district; he also has a tough reelection fight coming up next year, which may have swayed Pelosi, as Udall acknowledged.

(Lampson hasn’t been the only member lobbying his colleagues to support the additional funding; the Orlando Sentinel reported last week that Rep. Dave Weldon (R-FL) had sent a “Dear Colleague” letter in support of the funding. Lampson, though, doubtless has better access to the speaker than Weldon…)

Udall also said there would be very few strings attached to the additional $1 billion, to give NASA administrator Mike Griffin (who was in attendance at the breakfast) the flexibility to spend the money where it was most needed, “as long as it doesn’t all go in one pot.”

The biggest obstacle, though, remains the threat of a Presidential veto of the overall appropriations bill. (As noted at the breakfast, it’s less difficult to get the House to support the funding increase if they know the bill is going to be vetoed regardless.) “We will be here into the middle of December, by all accounts,” Udall said, anticipating the veto and corresponding efforts to either override the veto or come up with an alternative funding bill. “The crossroad we’ll reach is do we have a CR [continuing resolution] and a standoff, or do we find some sweet spot where we compromise.” He said there is a “spirit” of compromise in the House, but didn’t know if that extended to the Senate or the White House.

22 comments to House leadership willing to support NASA budget increase

  • anonymous.space

    “As noted at the breakfast, it’s less difficult to get the House to support the funding increase if they know the bill is going to be vetoed regardless.”

    That’s the key. This is all funny money until the veto. Only after that do the budget negotiations become real.

    FWIW…

  • To date, to coin a phrase, Mr. Bush has hardly found a spending program he didn’t like. After wasting hundreds of billions of dollars on an elective war that has made the strategic situation in the Middle East far worse than it was, it would be ironic indeed if he kills his own space project over a few billion dollars in domestic spending.

    – Donald

  • richardb

    W is such a disaster, isn’t he?

    If only W hadn’t come along we could have had the MidEast of yester-year, so stable, so peaceful. Sunni slaughtering Shia; Sunni slaughtering Kurd. Arabs killing Jews, Jews killing Arabs. Christians fleeing Arab land everywhere just to keep their heads attached to their necks. The way its always been for a millenium.

    Ah.
    The Good ole Days.

  • richardb: You are of course correct. However, an unknown number of hundreds of billions of dollars later, and uncounted lives on all sides, we now have gained yet another completely lawless territory for every stripe of terrorist to hide. A quick look at the map should show you that this is a very large hiding place indeed. Meanwhile, we have removed the strategic check on Iran and, while we looked the other way, we have let the place that actually attacked us degenerate most of the way back to where it was before we arrived.

    (Even one of the rare good things to come out of this Administration — the VSE — has been ignored and allowed to degenerate into a technical mess that almost certainly will fail in its goals.)

    I, for one, can think of far better ways to spend the dollars and lives. Yes, W has been a largely unmitigated disaster to our country, creating strategic and tactical messes that we will all be paying for the rest of our lives.

    – Donald

  • richardb

    Donald, you seem to equate spending money to strategic losses. You also seem to equate our human losses to a strategic loss. In fact the costs in money and lives has been low. Doubt that? Look at the homicide level in a city like Los Angeles. Its not much lower than American combat losses in Iraq since 2003 on a yearly basis. You can look it up. Throw in cities like Miami or New York and more people are being murdered here in the USA then are being killed in combat in Iraq. Despite this, Bush has given human exploration of the moon and Mars a good name. Sure the man has made terrible mistakes. Just like all presidents in war time. I have no doubt that 10 years from now, some form of the VSE will be in play and getting funded. I’ll thank Bush for that.

  • MarkWhittington

    The course of the coming veto fight will be determined by what margin the final bill is passed. If it’s by a veto proof majority, the President may have some difficulty getting a veto sustained, even considering his series of recent wins over the Pelosi-Reid Congress. On the other hand, ieven if the veto is sustained, the extra NASA funding looks to be passed by overwelming majorities, which will be a factor when negotiations start. One could see the President accepting the gift of extra funding for what is, after all, his program, but insisting that it be offset by cuts in other programs, say earmarks.

  • Charles in Houston

    Fellow Space Enthusiasts -

    Could we get back to the subject (quite a radical thought, eh)?

    While it is commendable to ask to add some discretionary money into the space budget (disclaimer – I am a Lampson supporter) we do need to ask where the proposed amount came from. Why exactly one billion?

    Probably because it an easy number. Not that any particular bill is just one billion dollars. Not that it will fix a specific building or process.

    So – we add a billion. It will just not make that much of a difference.

    Unfortunately, it is enough to start some other program that will then be underfunded also.

    The one “string” that should be on the money is that it should be used for facility maintenance, purchasing newer equipment, etc.

    Charles

  • anonymous.space

    “The course of the coming veto fight will be determined by what margin the final bill is passed. If it’s by a veto proof majority,”

    Possible, but unlikely, given that the House couldn’t even overturn a veto on the child health care bill — a much more universal and popular measure — yesterday.

    “One could see the President accepting the gift of extra funding for what is”

    The White House is already on the record in its SAPs (Statements of Administration Position on the legislation in question) that it opposes the $1 billion increase for NASA.

    Even if the President was favorable to the $1 billion increase, the White House has committed to vetoing the entire appropriations bill that NASA is funded through because of funding issues that involve the other agencies in that bill and because of an overall fiscal stand that the White House is taking that is much bigger than NASA or that bill alone.

    For us space exploration advocates, I’d also note a few things:

    1) Even if the $1 billion increase is realized in a new, post-veto bill, Mikulski is requiring behind-the-scenes that about half of the funding go towards restoring Earth science cuts and Goddard-related space science.

    2) It’s unclear if the remainder would go towards Constellation or towards shoring up STS/ISS budget margins that were eroded by Columbia and Katrina. Those were the programs that paid the lion’s share of those costs.

    3) Even if the remainder does go towards Constellation, a $500 million boost in one year is unlikely to make much of a dent in the Ares I/Orion schedule. This amount is only a splash in that $20-30 billion bucket, and it all has to be spent in one fiscal year, which limits the funding’s utility to a multi-year development program like Constellation. To accelerate the Ares I/Orion IOC by a year or two, NASA would need some handful of billions of dollars spread over several years. (And because they’re still grappling with technical issues, I’m not sure NASA even has a good enough handle on the schedule right now to make such projections.)

    Finally, we should also not forget that, despite Pelosi’s support, the $1 billion increase in the conference bill is not a done deal yet.

    Bottom-line, although exciting, we really have to temper our expectations with regards to whether the “Mikulski miracle” will be realized, and if realized, what it will and can actually fix.

    My 2 cents… FWIW…

  • anonymous.space

    “I have no doubt that 10 years from now, some form of the VSE will be in play and getting funded.”

    If we equate the VSE with a human lunar return, then I would just note that the Clinton campaign — the current front-runner from either party — plans to defer the effort.

    Under those circumstances, I would not be so sanguine that “some form of the VSE will be in play and getting funded” some “10 years from now”.

    Not trying to be political, just realistic.

    “I’ll thank Bush for that.”

    The Bush II White House absolutely deserves credit for formulating the VSE. Execution has been another matter.

    FWIW…

  • John Malkin

    It seems to that NASA was moved to Commerce, Justice, and Science bill. At least it’s been Lawyers vs. NASA instead of Veterans vs. NASA. I think America will get more out of that $1 billion going to NASA than if it went to the War to blow things up. I’m not against blowing things up, I was born in Michigan after all but it just doesn’t do much for science or space exploration unless you are making explosions on comets, asteroids or the moon. Did we borrow that $1 billion from the Chinese?

    Imagine if some of that oil money went to developing access to space maybe we would have a reusable SSTO (single stage to orbit) spacecraft (Looking into the sky and dreaming).

    Off topic but definitely space politics, China announced they want to be part of ISS and also China announced they want to start a space branch of the communist party. So where would China attach their lab? To the Russian module, the French side of the Columbus module defiantly not to the Japan module. I think to one of US segment modules.

    I know I should just go back to lurking…

  • John Malkin

    It seems since NASA was moved to Commerce, Justice, and Science bill, at least it’s been Lawyers vs. NASA instead of Veterans vs. NASA – correction.

  • Anonymous: The Bush II White House absolutely deserves credit for formulating the VSE. Execution has been another matter.

    Just to be clear, I fully agree with that.

    John: Did we borrow that $1 billion from the Chinese?

    Very indirectly, but I would say yes.

    Imagine if some of that oil money went to developing access to space maybe we would have a reusable SSTO (single stage to orbit) spacecraft (Looking into the sky and dreaming).

    According to last week’s Space News, the DoD is developing an interest in solar power satellites. If so, this might actually get somewhere and may help to reduce our dependence on other sources of energy. I consider this an entirely good development.

    [One important and generally ignored note, though. Importing solar energy from space involves a net increase in the energy input to the atmosphere. If ever done on a sufficiently large scale, it too could result in global warming -- though adding trace amounts of greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere is a far more efficient way of warming the atmosphere.]

    – Donald

  • Chewbacca

    If the Mukulski Amendment providing the $1B supplemental/emergency funding is not approved, it will jeopardize our national security. Think about it – 5 years from now, when the Shuttle program has concluded, and we are in the middle of the”gap” between the Shuttle program and the Orion program, and about the time the Chinese land on the moon and shoot down a few more satellites, and Russia ups the price to go to the space station, if we do not approve the funds to shorten the time back to space, America will look back and ask, “what the heck was Congress fighting over? less than one percent of the annual budget?” This is a no brainer. For the safety and defense of our country, I hope those extra Republican votes can be found to override the president if he really does veto the bill for his own political agenda.

  • anonymous.space

    “Think about it – 5 years from now, when the Shuttle program has concluded,”

    I’m nitpicking, but the Shuttle program ends in 2010, not 2012 (or 2015).

    “about the time the Chinese land on the moon”

    The head of China’s space agency says that they have not made a decision to send taikonauts to the Moon; their planning documents claim that they’re not going to make such a decision until 2020; they’re asking to participate in the ISS; and (most importantly) there’s no physical evidence (e.g., heavy lift launch site or vehicle) that the Chinese are pursuing such a program.

    “shoot down a few more satellites”

    How are Ares I/Orion (or any human space transport system) going to defend against Chinese ASAT attacks? If anything, spending on human space flight is a distraction from the systems that the U.S. would really need to defend against or deter such attacks.

    “Russia ups the price to go to the space station”

    This is a real possibility, especially if COTS does not deliver on time (or at all).

    FWIW…

  • CynicalStudent

    i read about that DoD study. it seems quite a ways off still, no matter the desire of military commanders seeking battlefield energy independence. and after the Iraq war, witnessing the ignored requests and advice of top-tier brass (or outright firing like with Shinseki) by the civilian leadership, ie. Rumsfeld/Cheney (cant blame Bush on everything), i doubt this proposal will be treated with any more seriousness than demands for up-armored Humvees or reinstatement of the draft.

    if the U.S. continues down the current path of stoking anti-chinese space fears, i seriously doubt a chinese role in the ISS, even if we get out in 2016 or 2020. doesnt look good, cooperating with the ‘boogeyman’ being used to justify funding increases.

    “Imagine if some of that oil money went to developing access to space maybe we would have a reusable SSTO (single stage to orbit) spacecraft (Looking into the sky and dreaming).”

    while we’re dreaming, how about a space elevator, magnetic rail launchers for heavy cargo, and a proven strategy to mitigate threatening NEOs? please. even if W hadnt decided to invade iraq (long before 9/11, proving false yet again the iraq-queda connection which is now so painfully real), there was still missile defence to be bulked up, navy stealth ddx destroyers to design, the commanche or osprey, and any number of other high-dollar I.M.C. projects with little real value in security that would have seen funding increases instead. until space as an economic sphere and as a jobs-at-home-district is understood by politicians, it will continue seeing less than 1% of our discretionary spending. hating on Bush or Clinton or any other former or future candidate wont change that, only getting it through to the congress that their election chances can be improved by supporting space will.

  • D. Messier

    Bush was for fully funding NASA’s programs before he was against it.

  • Ray

    anonymous.space: “1) Even if the $1 billion increase is realized in a new, post-veto bill, Mikulski is requiring behind-the-scenes that about half of the funding go towards restoring Earth science cuts and Goddard-related space science”

    That wouldn’t bother me. Of course she’s going to have to share if she wants to get enough votes on her side. $500M or so might not make much difference if sent to a giant orbiting telescope or something like that, but it could make a big difference in smaller Earth or space science missions, research and analysis, or (NewSpace and/or Old) suborbital science missions.

    For the lunar program, which is a priority for many folks on this site, at least some of the pressure against the program from the science areas raided by Ares/Shuttle would be reduced. This money could also be used in ways that promote both the Earth/space science and the lunar program at the same time (eg: an Earth observation demo from the lunar surface/orbit, or a small lunar space science mission).

    Of course I’d like a bit to go to Centennial Challenges, too.

    anonymous.space: “3) Even if the remainder does go towards Constellation, a $500 million boost in one year is unlikely to make much of a dent in the Ares I/Orion schedule. This amount is only a splash in that $20-30 billion bucket, and it all has to be spent in one fiscal year, which limits the funding’s utility to a multi-year development program like Constellation.”

    I agree that sending $500M to Ares 1/Orion wouldn’t be a good use of the money, if it ever appears. It would be like sending 500 more troops up the hill at Fredricksburg. I’d say the same for the Shuttle.

    However, an additional $500M could be extremely productive if used to bolster COTS. $500M could easily be the difference between failure and success for COTS. If COTS fails, Ares 1/Orion will have to be focused on ISS transportation, which would make the prospects for the lunar program even grimmer. If COTS succeeds, there will be no need for Ares ISS support (except perhaps as a backup option), so, to keep the Shuttle workforce busy, a lunar program, or something else ambitious, would be needed.

  • al Fansome

    Ray,

    I agree with you on the use of some of the new money for COTS. $500M would be a drop in the bucket for Ares 1/Orion, and would no nothing to change the strategic situation.

    Anon — I agree with you about the motivations of Members on this subject. Everybody now believes the appropriations will be voted by Bush (because has officially stated his intent to do so in writingg). Therefore, the need to be “fiscally responsible” is no longer present since they believe there is no fiscal cost to voting for adding $1 Billion. But they do get the benefits for voting or it. You have to think like a Member of Congress, and understand their interests, in order to appreciate what is going on here.

    - Al

  • Increased funding to NASA because of the VSE (or more precisely because NASA has implemented the VSE in such a way as to bleed all other NASA programs dry) is exactly the opposite of the intent of the VSE.

    NASA obviously doesn’t get that or doesn’t want to get it and Congress and Senate ultimately don’t seem to either.

    The VSE was not intended to be the creation of another fiscal black hole but rather to say “hey look we have NASA and we’re going to continue paying NASA but when we do so we might as well give them a higher purpose than they’re currently having so as to get more out of it”.

    Aldridge commission* anyone? Sustainability, affordability, credibility.

    One can have “business as usual” or the VSE but not both and it seems just about everybody has decided against the VSE in practice.

    * pdf of the “President’s Commission on Implementation of United States Space Exploration Policy” aka the Aldridge commission available at the website linked in the nametag.

  • one astonished amigo

    So in America, it’s ‘business as usual’, as usual.

    That will really solve America’s problems, like debt, war, oil, climate, etc …

    Look at the bright side – the Ares I booster might just come in handy as a ballistic missile for the upcoming resource wars with Mexico and Canada.

  • anonymous.space

    “Ray,

    I agree with you on the use of some of the new money for COTS. $500M would be a drop in the bucket for Ares 1/Orion, and would no nothing to change the strategic situation.”

    Thirded.

    “Of course I’d like a bit to go to Centennial Challenges, too.”

    Seconded.

  • [...] neighboring, high-profile 22nd District (home to JSC, as well as Tom DeLay’s former district) sought to win House support for the “Mikulski miracle”: an extra $1 billion for NASA in FY08 that had been approved by the Senate with bipartisan support. [...]

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