Congress, NASA, White House

False alarm?

In an editorial in Saturday’s edition, the Houston Chronicle sounds the alarm: NASA’s budget in under attack. “There is talk in Washington that those mind-boggling outlays for the nation’s economic recovery could come at NASA’s expense – significant cuts in the space agency’s budget,” the editorial claims. Later: “But one wonders: Why is such a battle necessary? Why would NASA be targeted for cuts?”

However, it’s not at all clear that the agency is being “targeted” for cuts. The editorial appears based on an article earlier this week about how members of Texas’s congressional delegation were gearing up to protect the agency’s budget. But the article doesn’t gave any specific evidence that the agency is being singled out, only that there are “expectations that billions of dollars will be shifted from various federal agencies into new programs to stimulate the economy” and that “NASA’s supporters are bracing for a hard look by the new administration and Democratic-controlled Congress at the space agency’s $20.2 billion budget.” (Of course, that $20.2-billion figure is only the agency’s authorized budget for FY2009; the final appropriated amount—what really matters—may be significantly less.)

Those stimulus efforts, like the massive public works projects proposed by President-elect Obama today, are likely to run into the hundreds of billions of dollars. If those efforts are going to be even partially offset by cuts elsewhere, those cuts are more likely to be broadbased: across many or most programs, rather than targeting a few. And who knows: given that Obama promised $2 billion extra for NASA during the campaign, the agency could even be targeted as one that would escape any cuts.

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