There are signs that the White House and Congress are approaching a deal to fend off the so-called “fiscal cliff”, including the automatic across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration. The two sides have exchanged proposals for a combination of tax increases and spending cuts to both discretionary programs and entitlements. According to the New York Times, the latest proposal by the administration would include $100 billion in cuts to non-defense discretionary programs over 10 years, and an equal amount from defense spending. That would, presumably, provide a much softer blow to NASA and other programs than the more severe cuts that sequestration would impose.
That budget debate has had an impact on planning for the administration’s 2014 budget proposal. POLITICO reports that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has slowed work on the 2014 proposal, awaiting what happens with the 2013 budget given the ongoing fiscal cliff negotiations. In particular, federal agencies have yet to receive the “passbacks” from OMB regarding the agencies’ 2014 budget requests; those passbacks are traditionally issued around Thanksgiving. The release of the 2014 budget proposal will also likely be delayed, from early February perhaps into March.
While the fiscal cliff negotiations continue, House and Senate conferees are expected to complete work this week on a final version of a defense authorization bill, reconciling differences between the versions passed by each chamber. One item to keep an eye on is the inclusion of any export control reform language: the House included a provision in its version returning to the president the ability to take commercial satellites and related components off the US Munitions List, but the Senate did not consider an amendment to add similar language to its version.
On Monday, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) passed away at the age of 88. Inouye chaired the Senate Appropriations Committee and also its defense subcommittee. AOL Defense speculates on the reshuffling in the committee that will result, including the possibility that one senator will take over the chairmanship of the whole committee and another of the defense subcommittee. One scenario mooted by the article could have an effect on NASA: Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) could take over the defense subcommittee given that she has been active on it, even charing one hearing earlier this year in Inouye’s absence. That would mean, though, that she would have to relinquish the chair of the Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations subcommittee, whose jurisdiction includes NASA.