Last fall Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) introduced S. 1808, legislation titled the “Control Spending Now Act” designed to, as its name suggests, reduce federal spending through a series of budget cuts and related reforms. No action has taken place on the bill since its introduction in October (understandably, as the Senate was a little busy with health care reform, among other issues), but his office has been sending out a series of “Spotlight on Spending” releases designed to draw attention to various provisions of the bill.
On Friday Feingold’s office sent out the latest version: “Save $24.7 Billion by Delaying a Trip to the Moon”. Feingold proposes delaying a human return to the Moon by five years to create that cost savings. From the statement:
“I understand the appeal of sending astronauts back to the moon, but given our current fiscal situation, we need to prioritize how we spend taxpayer dollars,” Feingold said. “Not only would a trip to the moon in the current time frame not make financial sense, rushing it through as planned could subject our astronauts to unnecessary risk. With the White House-appointed Augustine Commission [sic] saying that the mission simply isn’t fiscally viable as planned, we should delay it. The president needs to modify NASA’s plan to preserve key missions while controlling spending.”
The bill would allow NASA to spend up to $600 million a year “solely for purposes in connection with research and technology development and maintenance of the manufacturing and technology base” for human lunar exploration. (Elsewhere in the bill another non-NASA space program is targeted for cancellation: the Defense Department’s Space Tracking and Surveillance System satellite constellation.)
A few comments about the bill: First, it assumes that NASA is still on track for a human return to the Moon in 2020, something that various analyses, most recently that of the Augustine committee, indicated it was highly unlikely. The bill’s language does not explicitly call for a five-year delay, only a prohibition on spending “to support a human lunar mission under the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Constellation Program scheduled to occur before the year 2025″. Getting to the Moon by 2025 under the current “program of record” and funding profile looks to be a challenge anyway.
Second, it’s not clear exactly how Feingold calculates the cost savings that such a delay would realize. Feingold’s release states that a five-year delay would save $24.7 billion over ten years, citing data from the CBO. The CGO did issue a report last April titled “The Budgetary Implications of NASA’s Current Plans for Space Exploration”, but it didn’t include the scenario Feingold mentioned.
Finally, this proposal may sound a little familiar: it’s something the Obama campaign floated in November 2007 as almost an afterthought to an education policy white paper; the five-year Constellation delay would help pay for an early education initiative. The Obama campaign, of course, eventually abandoned that plan, but it appears Sen. Feingold isn’t averse to recycling the idea.