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.