SUBJECT: NASA Appropriations
The House this week passed legislation to provide NASA $13.648 billion in FY 1998 -- $148 million above the Administration's request. Of the additional funding, $100 million is directed to the U.S./Russian Cooperative Program.
Prior to the floor debate, which took place on Tuesday and Wednesday, several House members announced their intentions to offer amendments to the spending bill. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) drafted a measure to shift funding from the space station account, including the $100 million for the U.S./Russian Cooperative Program, to develop a second Reusable Launch Vehicle. But this amendment and others were never considered. Progress on the VA-HUD-IA bill moved uncharacteristically fast, catching members off guard. When the time arrived for members to offer space-related amendments, they were not on the floor and consequently lost the opportunity to introduce their amendments.
Science Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) happened to be on the House floor at the right time and was able to offer his amendment, which would have deleted the $100 million in additional funding for the U.S./Russian Cooperative Program. Sensenbrenner said NASA had failed to fully account for the funds it needs to build contingency hardware as a safeguard against further Russian delays in constructing the space station. He said the $100 million had not been requested by the Administration and would only encourage Russia to drag its feet in completing its end of the bargain.
Few members were available to debate the Sensenbrenner measure. Congressman Jerry Lewis (R-CA), Chairman of the Subcommittee on VA-HUD-IA Appropriations, opposed the amendment, warning the cut might impact the space station's schedule and partnership with Russia. Congressman Tim Roemer (D-IN) and congressman Rohrabacher gave brief statements in support of the amendment. Sensenbrenner asked for a recorded vote and the measure failed by a vote of 227 to 200. Republican votes were about evenly split, with Democrats strongly opposing the provision.
The House debate on the VA-HUD-IA bill, as a whole, proved less contentious than in recent years because of the availability of additional funding -- approximately $600 million more than the Administration's request. According to Rep. Lewis, the generous budget gives members a "chance to catch [their] breath." However, he warned that less funding is provided in the Senate's bill, meaning "some very tough decisions" down the road.
On Tuesday, the Senate VA-HUD-IA Subcommittee approved $13.5 billion for NASA's FY 1998 budget. Unlike the House bill, the Senate bill does not include additional funding for the U.S./Russian Cooperative Program.
The bill went to the full committee this afternoon; results are expected tomorrow, with no major changes anticipated.
Next step: conference action on the two bills.
Unlike previous years, Congressman Roemer did not offer an amendment to kill the space station. Several months ago, he tried to knock the project out of "orbit" in an amendment to the Space Authorization Act (NASA's authorization bill). The measure was defeated by a vote of 305 to 112 - the largest margin to date. It appears Roemer may have thrown in the towel.
Finally, the House floor debate on the NASA budget had a decidedly more optimistic tone than in the recent past. With the success of the Mars Pathfinder, numerous House members made speciall efforts to congratulate NASA for the mission and to associate themselves with the agency's accomplishments.
About the "NSS Capital Capsule"
The National Space Society is an independent space advocacy group headquartered in Washington, DC. Its 25,000 members and 95 chapters support the creation of a spacefaring civilization. For more information on the NSS and our future in space, visit http://www.nss.org/.