Campaign '08, Congress

Will space’s influence in the House be diminished?

The outcome of the 2008 Congressional elections had little influence on the standing of space in the Senate. The most prominent advocates of NASA and space policy, including Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), and Bill Nelson (D-FL) were not up for reelection this year. One senator with a strong interest in military space issues, Wayne Allard (R-CO), did not run for reelection; his seat was won by Mark Udall, who had been chair of the space subcommittee of the House Science and Technology Committee. Overall, little change.

The story, though, is different in the House, and for space advocates not for the better. In addition to Udall, two other House members, Bud Cramer (D-AL) and Dave Weldon (R-FL), also did not run for re-election; both served on the Appropriations Committee, although not on the subcommittee whose jurisdiction includes NASA. A bigger blow, though, were the reelection defeats of Reps. Tom Feeney (R-FL) and Nick Lampson (D-TX); Feeney had been the ranking Republican on the House Science and Technology Committee’s space subcommittee, while Lampson had been promised the chairmanship of that subcommittee had he won.

While these members are generally being replaced by new Congressmen who are, at least on paper, similarly supportive of space (one exception is Udall’s House successor, Jared Polis, whose campaign web site doesn’t include space, science, or technology among his issues), they’ll be at the bottom of the seniority ladder. It will be an opportunity for other members to step up, such as Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-LA), who had been the vice-chair of the space subcommittee and presumably would be in line to chair the subcommittee after Lampson’s loss. The chair and ranking member of the full science committee, Bart Gordon (D-TN) and Ralph Hall (R-TX), will be back, as well as another staunch space advocate on the appropriations committee, John Culberson (R-TX). It will, though, be a time of transition in the House just as NASA approaches its biggest transition since the end of Apollo.

15 comments to Will space’s influence in the House be diminished?

  • Maybe bad for NASA. It’s unclear that it’s bad for space.

  • Thanks for the detailed report, Jeff.

    – Donald

  • MarkWhittington

    Rand – How will the planned tax increases impact commercial space, I wonder. I think this has the potential to be very bad for every kind of space, new, old, private, public. I will be pleased, however, to be proven wrong.

  • Vladislaw

    New start ups will have zero capital gains if Obama stands behind his campaign pledge, that is the first zero gravity-zero tax plan for America. You will also get a 3000 tax break for hiring an american worker. So there will be a tax advantage for hiring ex nasa workers of commercial space.

    It is not an end all be all, but if you are thinking about a commercial space new start up, and can operate under zero capital gains to start with and get credit for health care, seems like now is a time that looks attractive to start.

  • It’s hard to know what the effect of tax rate increases will have until we know exactly what they are.

  • New start ups will have zero capital gains if Obama stands behind his campaign pledge, that is the first zero gravity-zero tax plan for America.

    That’s a big “if.” Anyway, it has a huge loophole. Existing companies will simply start up new companies, and take stock in them in exchange for assets. How will they define what a “new startup” is?

  • reader

    NASA losing more of its status quo supporters and jobs program defenders can only be a good thing for space development.

  • MarkWhittington

    When I observe space activists chortling about how Obama and the Democrats are going to shaft NASA and that would be great for commercial space, I begin to wonder how so many people can be so clueless. NASA, through programs like COTS, is a potential prime customers for commercial space startups. Start putting pressure on NASA’s budget, and the Agency and its allies are not going to be so enthusiastic about commercial entities that could become competitors. Not that Obama is going to be a big commercial space bppster. Besides tax increases, one wonders how friendly his pick for FAA is going to be,

  • anonymous.space

    “NASA, through programs like COTS, is a potential prime customers for commercial space startups. Start putting pressure on NASA’s budget, and the Agency and its allies are not going to be so enthusiastic about commercial entities that could become competitors.”

    Reader’s point is a legitimate one. NASA is spending $20-25 billion on Ares I/Orion development, but only $500 million on COTS. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that if NASA had to pursue the same civil human space flight goals, but without the largesse of the civil human space flight budget, the agency (and Congress) would have little choice to pursue less costly, less civil servant-intensive, and more commercial solutions.

    Even if that weren’t the case, it’s also goes to good Government 101. An efficient, small government is one that leverages, rather than duplicates, private sector capabilities. If the private sector can launch intermediate and smaller sized payloads and crews, then NASA should leverage that capability and focus its resources on heavy lift or cislunar transport or advanced reusable launchers or fuel depots (or whatever the exploration or technology target is beyond basic Earth-to-orbit transport), rather than reinventing the intermediate-lift Earth-to-orbit wheel. NASA would be a lot closer to launching its first human lunar return mission if it were spending some of the $10-12+ billion going to Ares I on a heavy lifter, EDS, and/or lander, rather than competing with its own, unfunded COTS D program for basic ETO crew transport.

    “Not that Obama is going to be a big commercial space bppster.”

    The Obama campaign’s space policy said otherwise. Under “Space Science and Exploration” and “Closing the Gap”, the Obama campaign’s space policy explicitely states:

    “Using the Private Sector: Obama will stimulate efforts within the private sector to develop and demonstrate spaceflight capabilities. NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services is a good model of government/industry collaboration.”

    See (add http://www):

    .spaceref.com/news/viewsr.html?pid=28880

    “Besides tax increases, one wonders how friendly his pick for FAA is going to be,”

    I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong, but IIRC, the position of FAA Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation is a civil service (SES) position. They’re not a political appointee.

    FWIW…

  • Paul F. Dietz

    I doubt the democrats will be particularly good for commercial space. But shrinking NASA would be good regardless.

  • Paul,
    Your ignoring the fact that New Mexico is a very Blue state, is also the home a major commerical space project.

  • When I observe space activists chortling about how Obama and the Democrats are going to shaft NASA and that would be great for commercial space, I begin to wonder how so many people can be so clueless. NASA, through programs like COTS, is a potential prime customers for commercial space startups. Start putting pressure on NASA’s budget, and the Agency and its allies are not going to be so enthusiastic about commercial entities that could become competitors.

    Mark, this is a rare example of total agreement. While I don’t think it likely that Mr. Obama will “shaft NASA” too much (he has to win Florida again in four years and he has good space advisers, balanced by the need to fix the economic messes he has inherited), if he did it would be a disaster for commercial space transportation. Right now, and for the immediately foreseeable future, NASA (and the DoD) are the customers. I have been and remain truly amazed the apparently limitless ability of many advocates for commercial space transportation to let ideology blind them to simple financial reality. . . .

    – Donald

  • Vladislaw

    Rand said “How will they define what a “new startup” is?”

    I agree with you, when President Elect Obama first stated the zero tax for small business new start ups he was SPECIFICALLY refering to ONLY new ENERGY start ups. This was pre sept 15 and the wall street melt down. It was only AFTER that he started to change the language to ALL small business and new start ups without adding that new energy only predicate.

    As you say, we will have to wait until the actual language comes out of the house and senate.

  • Vladislaw

    Ferris said “you’re ignoring the fact that New Mexico is a very Blue State…space project.”

    I have to agree with you there. As we can recall, Richardson, who was considered a VERY good friend of the Clintons and was thought to be in their corner. He came out for Obama really early. The Clintons, in effect, were calling him a traitor.

    It begs the question, what was promised for the endorsement. A cabinet position or some bacon for the folks back home. If Richardson jumped on Senator Obama’s campaign that early, I tend to think it was more about what he could bring home to his state, versus what the Clinton’s offered personally. I believe that the new commercial space port and related activities is becoming a major cornerstone of planned growth for New Mexico by Richardson.

    If Richardson was the one to put the bug in Obama’s ear about cutting NASA’s constellation program and toss part of it to commercial space does make some sense.

  • Al Fansome

    Too bad about Lampson. He had some vision, and was a supporter of commercial space.

    - Al

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