A likely battle in Congress in 2010 will revolve around the budget deficit and attempts to reduce it, given the massive deficit accumulated in FY2009. At the same time it appears that Congressional space supporters, and perhaps the White House, will be seeking additional funding for NASA in FY2011. Are these two efforts on a collision course?
In his WAAY-TV interview yesterday, Congressman Parker Griffith (D-AL) mentioned both NASA and deficit reduction as priorities. Asked at the end of the interview about what his priorities were in 2010, he said, “It’s the continuing funding of Ares 1 and Ares 5, pushing our job creation here, but, most important, America needs to reduce its deficit and retain and maintain its dominance in space and in our military.”
Griffith isn’t the only space supporter also positioning himself as a deficit hawk. In an op-ed in The Hill earlier this week, Congressman Pete Olson (R-TX), ranking member of the House Science and Technology Committee’s space subcommittee, complained about the willingness of the White House and Congressional leadership to spend. “In a recession with extremely limited resources, Congress has gone on a spending spree writing costly checks that taxpayers simply cannot afford to cash,” he wrote. And Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) introduced legislation in October to require a balanced budget. (The release notes that Shelby has “introduced similar legislation in every Congress since 1981″, which should give you an idea of its odds of success.)
Of course, NASA is a tiny part of the overall federal budget (just over half a percent in FY 2010), and increasing its budget, by $1 billion or even $3 billion, does little to budget deficits hundreds of times larger. (Likewise, cutting NASA alone doesn’t do much for deficit relief.) However, if Congress does get serious in 2010 about deficit reduction, any program that’s proposed to get an increase is likely going to come under special scrutiny. Are the agency’s supporters in Congress—particularly those who also cast themselves as fiscal conservatives—prepared to respond?