The House is scheduled to start debate today on HR 5326, the Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bill. (Depending on the number of amendments proposed, the bill may not be up for a final vote until Wednesday or Thursday.) Late yesterday, the White House issued a statement of administration policy (SAP) on the bill, outlining the issues the administration has with the bill and warning that the president’s senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill if it remained unchanged.
The only concern that the SAP raised about the portion of the bill funding NASA is with the language in the bill and accompanying report about NASA’s commercial crew program. “The Administration strongly opposes the level of funding provided for the commercial crew program,” it states, noting that the House funds the program at $500 million, $330 million below the administration’s request, “as well as restrictive report language that would eliminate competition in the program.” That is a reference to report language that calls on NASA to downselecting to one or, at most, two companies, and using conventional contracts versus Space Act Agreements. “This would increase the time the United States will be required to rely solely on foreign providers to transport American astronauts to and from the space station,” it warns.
The SAP goes on to state that while the administration “appreciates” the funding appropriated to NASA overall in the bill—a little under $17.6 billion, compared to the $17.71 billion requested—unspecified programs received “unnecessary increases at the expense of other important initiatives.”
The NASA language in the House bill did get an endorsement yesterday from three famous retired astronauts: Neil Armstrong, Gene Cernan, and Jim Lovell. In a letter to Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), who chairs the appropriations subcommittee that developed the bill, they said a commercial crew downselect now would be “prudent” in an era of limited budgets in order to accelerate vehicle development.