After a brief debate on the House floor late Monday afternoon, the House of Representatives passed HR 3547, a bill that extends the existing third-party commercial launch indemnification regime by one year. The bill passed on a 376–5 vote; the five dissenting votes were from Republicans who did not participate in the floor debate: Reps. Justin Amash (MI), Louie Gohmert (TX), Walter Jones Jr. (NC), Thomas Massie (KY), and Mark Sanford (SC).
While the leadership of the House Science Committee hailed the bipartisan support the bill had in a press release after Monday’s vote, the debate did bring up the disagreements between Republicans and Democrats regarding the length of the extensions. “I would have preferred a longer extension,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Science Committee, in remarks on the House floor, noting the NASA authorization bill his committee had approved this summer (on a party-line vote) included a five-year extension. The one-year extension, he said, would buy them time to work on a long-term extension as part of a larger commercial launch bill next year.
“While that is less than some in the industry would like,” Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), ranking member of the House Science Committee, said on the floor, “I believe it is an appropriate length, and that is because much has changed since the risk-sharing, liability, and indemnification regime was established in 1988.” A short-term extension would allow for a more thorough review of the regime, she argued. “A one-year extension provides the Congress with the time to conduct necessary hearings, perform our due diligence, and enable the enactment of a comprehensive update to existing commercial space legislation.”
The bill goes to the Senate, which has its own bill, S.1753, introduced by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) last month that would provide a three-year extension. There’s been no action on that bill since its introduction, despite initial hopes of quickly passing the bill via unanimous consent.