Congress, NASA

Senate action on NASA authorization mirrors the House

While the NASA authorization bill had to compete with nearly two dozen other bills and nominations at a Senate Commerce Committee markup Tuesday, that bill ended up getting the bulk of the attention during the hearing. It started off on a light note from the committee’s chairman, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV). “Never in my entire life have I been lobbied so hard, so brutally, so cruelly, so unrelentingly, to have a markup on NASA as I have by a certain senator from the state of Florida,” he said in his opening statement, referring to Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), chairman of the space subcommittee.

The committee’s ranking member, Sen. John Thune (R-SD), hinted at discord about the bill in his opening statement. “Other bills, like S.1317, the NASA reauthorization, will likely need even more work before they reflect the kind of consensus that has characterized our Committee’s enacted legislation,” he said. “With additional effort, however, I am hopeful that we can get there in the weeks and months ahead.”

While most of the bills and nominations were approved by the committee en bloc, the NASA authorization bill was handeld separately. Four Republican members of the committee—Sens. Roger Wicker (R-MS), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Ron Johnson (R-WI)–sought an amendment that would reduce the authorized funding levels in the bill to those compliant with the Budget Control Act, as the House version of the bill does.

“It surprises me to be bringing a sour note into a NASA reauthorization bill,” Wicker said in his comments, noting that the agency has traditionally been treated in a bipartisan manner in the committee. “I am disappointed that we would have a proposal unveiled essentially a week ago, that we haven’t worked on together in a bipartisan fashion,” referring to the bill’s introduction in mid-July.

“This authorization disregards the Budget Control Act,” Cruz said in introducing his amendment. “Proceeding with an authorization while pretending that the existing law is something other than what it is, is not the most effective way to protect the priority that space exploration and manned exploration should have.” He was concerned automatic cuts from sequestration would prevent a proper rebalancing of priorities for NASA.

Rubio noted the issue put him into a difficult situation. “This is my first NASA authorization bill, and being a senator from Florida, that means a lot,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that my first vote on this may be a partisan one.”

Nelson defended the content, and his handling, of the legislation. “I want to put to rest that this thing hasn’t been considered,” he said, noting his subcommittee held several hearings on NASA this year, but few members other than himself and the subcommittee’s ranking member, Cruz, participated. “This legislation does not violate the Budget Control Act,” he continued. “The authorizing committees are free to set their agency budgets, and that includes NASA. Authorization of appropriations has no impact on the BCA limits.”

Ultimately, Rubio’s fear came true: the Republican-backed amendment failed on a 13-12 vote that fell on party lines. The committee then approved the bill, also on a straight party-line vote (Rockefeller, the last to vote, accidentally voted against the bill before realizing his error.) If that sounds familiar, it should: it mirrors what happened in the House earlier in the month when Democrats proposed many amendments, most of which were rejected on party-line votes by the Republican majority there. An area of policy that has traditionally not been particularly partisan has, at least among authorizers in both houses of Congress, become sharply partisan.

12 comments to Senate action on NASA authorization mirrors the House

  • Hiram

    Mr. Cruz considers “the most effective way to protect the priority that space exploration and manned exploration should have” is to authorize the lowest agency budget in not-so-recent history. How that can be construed as protecting priority is somewhat startling. I guess it’s an admission that the priority NASA should have is not that high for Mr. Cruz. Because that position is one in which NASA needs to be treated no differently than anyone else. You can call it “fair”, I guess, but it’s not about preserving high priority.

    As pointed out repeatedly by congressional scholars, authorization legislation in no way “violates” spending legislation. It does kinda thumb it’s nose at it, though, I guess. But authorization legislation can be a statement about what’s really important to the nation.

    Let’s not stand up for NASA, eh, Mr. Cruz?

  • moon bucket

    Rubio just voted against NASA funding? Does he know which state he represents?

  • Robert G Oler

    Both Cruz and Rubio are from the state of “candidates for the 2016 nomination”

    Robert G Oler Greetings from the Indian Sub Continent

  • Robert G Oler

    Meanwhile as SLS and Orion are Mark Whittington Nd others version of a welfare queen SpaceX racks up FREE ENTERPRISE orders and changes are happening left and right It’s not new v old space it is save the status quo VTRs dynamic change…the future and its enemies RGO

    Robert G Oler Geetings from the Indian Sub Continent

    • DCSCA

      “SpaceX racks up FREE ENTERPRISE orders and changes are happening left and right…” dreams Oler..

      Except they’re not.

      Space X has flown nobody. “Free Enterprise’ has floen nobody. Government have been flying people into space for over half a century.

      America has NASA. NewSpace has nada.

      • Hiram

        “Government have been flying people into space for over half a century.”

        Except ours, as of two years ago.

        “Space X has flown nobody. “Free Enterprise’ has floen nobody.”

        SpaceX just completed two more CCiCap milestones and is on track to complete the rest. So although SpaceX hasn’t flown a human being yet, NASA seems to believe they’re well on their way to doing so. SpaceX will be flying people before any space mission run by our government will.

        Putting human beings on rockets used to be what NASA prided itself on. The agency has fortunately decided not to compete in this arena anymore, though the nation still will, and NASA salutes that effort.

        Your words here are right now formally correct, but are tiresome because they are just irrelevant. You’re going to have a mouthful of them in a few years when you have to eat them. It’s one thing to eat a lot of words, but stuffing your face with irrelevant ones is even less appetizing. Got ketchup?

  • E.P. Grondine

    I’m not the only one who noticed:

    It simply took them longer.

    In this economy, you want how many billions spent in your home state or district to fly a few men to Mars?

    Let the jokes begin.

  • E.P. Grondine

    Hi Mark, Scoop:

    Note carefully the lack of Small Body Assessment Group proposals for those “alternative” missions, and their complete lack of adequate detection proposals:

    Well, space not only has the Moon and Mars, it holds tens of thousands of Small Bodies capable or ruining your day.

    The opinions of manned Mars flight enthusiasts can not change those facts.
    It is way past time that they stop trying to pretend ELE’s have not occurred, and trying to wish impacts away impact here on Earth.

    SBAG desperately needs house cleaning, and there needs to be an impact expert reporting directly to the ASScience.

  • Hiram

    “Well, space not only has the Moon and Mars, it holds tens of thousands of Small Bodies capable or ruining your day.”

    From recent perspectives on human space flight, Mars and the Moon have ruined a lot of peoples days. Now we have even more rocks that’ll do that!

    The SBAG conclusions with regard to human space flight were mainly with regard to science. The human space flight part of ARRM simply would not offer much science, they felt. SBAG is not constituted to assess impact mitigation, and they do not try to do so in any depth in their findings.

    To the extent that SMD is responsible for impact mitigation, you’re right, however, that there probably should be an impact expert reporting to the AA. The SBAG specifically recommended such an enhancement of SMD planetary defense staffing in their findings. The SBAG also strongly endorses the search for potentially hazardous objects, but is just concerned that such a search is not necessarily the same as the search that ARRM needs.

  • Finally managed to get the webcast of this hearing. I’ve posted the NASA excerpt on YouTube at:

    Most of the fighting was over whether or not the authorization committee can impose sequestration or if it’s an appropriations function.

  • Out of curiosity … Does anyone know of any other federal agency being subjected to this proactive imposition of sequestration? If not, why are the Republicans singling out NASA?

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