Nelson: House Funding Plan for NASA Unacceptable

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Florida Senator Bill Nelson

Florida Senator Bill Nelson

There is some good news and some bad news about the NASA budget from Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL).

The good news is that the Senate version of it will likely be far more generous than the House version discussed last week.

The bad news is that Congress is so dysfunctional that the space agency’s spending will get caught up in a much larger dispute over raising the nation’s debt ceiling, as it did last year. That could once again delay budget decisions until the week between Christmas and the new year.

The House version of the budget would keep NASA’s spending for the next two years at $16.8 billion, which is what it received this year under the cuts mandated by sequestration. The Obama Administration has requested nearly $17.8 billion for NASA for FY 2014.

According to Spacepolicyonline.com, Nelson told industry officials last week that the lower spending limit is unacceptable:

Nelson minced no words during a noontime talk to the Space Transportation Association, less than an hour after a House subcommittee ended a hearing on the draft House bill.  He said funding NASA at $16.8 billion for FY2014 and FY2015 would “run NASA into a ditch.”  That is the same as what NASA got for FY2013 after adjustments for the sequester and other congressionally-imposed across-the-board cuts.  The cuts were required to meet the budget levels enacted in the 2011 Budget Control Act.

He especially objected to the House bill’s cuts to the Earth science budget and rhetorically asked whether anyone thought Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee and is a strong advocate of NASA and its Earth science program, would ever accept it.  The House bill proposes cutting one-third of the Earth science budget compared to the FY2014 request.

Nelson, who chairs the science and space subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, plans to introduce his own bill in the Senate.

The House plan funds commercial crew at $700 million, which is below the $850 million the Obama Administration has requested for the next fiscal year.  It also prohibits NASA from spending any funds on a proposed mission to retrieve an asteroid and have astronauts visit it. Instead, the House would refocus NASA’s human deep space exploration on the moon and Mars.

Last year, disputes over the debt ceiling and the budget resulted in votes on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve to prevent a government shutdown. Nelson believes a similar scenario will unfold this year and blamed intransigence by Congressional Republicans for the problem.