Senate appropriators have already taken a position on NASA funding with an appropriations bill that cleared the committee last Thursday. House appropriators, though, declined to take a stand on NASA’s human spaceflight program last month, deciding to defer to authorizers. Now that the House Science and Technology Committee has approved its own authorization bill, different from what’s under consideration in the Senate, what will the committee do? One key member didn’t provide many firm predictions Tuesday.
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), the ranking member of the Commerce, Justice, and Science subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, didn’t predict what the committee would do when he spoke at a Space Transportation Association luncheon on Capitol Hill. “We were sort of just waiting to see what the authorizers have done,” he said. “I’m not going to predict completely where we will go or what will happen.”
Asked if he had a preference between the House and Senate versions of the bill (having previously endorsed the Senate version of the NASA authorization bill), he declined to play favorites, although he indicated both were an improvement over what the White House requested in its original budget proposal in that they kept “America number one” in space. “They’re both good,” he said. “I don’t think that I’m going to get involved in the two authorizing bills.” He added, though, that the Senate bill “fairly tracks the compromise in the letter that was sent”, referring to a letter to the president that about 60 members of Congress, including Wolf, signed last month asking for immediate development of a heavy-lift vehicle. “Maybe there’s a way to blend them together,” he concluded.
Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX), ranking member of the House Science Committee’s space subcommittee, was in attendance at the luncheon and provided his own insights on the differing bills. “We’re hoping to sit down with the Senate at some point” and work out a compromise. That won’t come until after the August recess, as Olson also noted that it was unlikely the full House would take up the authorization bill this week as some proponents had hoped. “We need it, if we possibly can, to get it to pass on its own” rather than get crammed into a larger omnibus bill.
On the timing of an appropriations bill, Wolf said it was likely there would be some kind of continuing resolution (CR), although he wasn’t sure how long would run. “I think a lot will depend on what will happen in the elections,” he said. He thought there was a “reasonable chance” that the CR would extend into January and a new Congress, one that Wolf believes, at least on the House side, will be in the hands of the Republican party. He was particularly wary of anything done by a post-election “lame duck” session in November or December, including passage of an omnibus bill that wraps up multiple appropriations into a single bill. “I think the less that happens in a lame duck session the better.”