On Wednesday the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, better known as the “deficit commission”, released its final report on its proposal to reduce the budget deficit through a combination of spending cuts, tax reform, and changes to mandatory spending programs. Many in the space community noted that the report does not include the recommendation in the illustrative list of discretionary spending cuts to eliminate funding for NASA’s commercial crew development program (a recommendation that was edited by the commission after its release in November.) The final report does reference a “list of illustrative savings options accompanying this report” with $200 billion in potential savings, the same amount in the original proposal, although no such list was in fact released with the report.
Even if NASA is not included in that list, though, the proposal isn’t good news for the agency. The final report would cap discretionary spending in 2012 at 2011 levels, then cut it the following year back to 2008 levels before allowing growth at half the rate of inflation in following years. That’s potentially more jarring than the co-chair’s earlier proposal, which would have capped 2012 spending at 2010 levels then made one-percent cuts annually through 2015. Assuming across-the-board cuts, under the final report’s scenario NASA’s budget would go down to about $17.3 billion in 2013, compared to $18.5 billion (a one-percent cut from the $18.7 billion NASA got in 2010 and thus would get in 2012) it would get in the co-chair’s proposal. (The administration’s FY11 budget proposal projected a NASA budget of $19.96 billion in 2013.) And as for those who would argue that NASA should somehow be insulated from these cuts, the final report notes, “Every aspect of the discretionary budget must be scrutinized, no agency can be off limits, and no program that spends too much or achieves too little can be spared.”