Mikulski Wants More Money for NASA

Sen. Barbara Mikulski
Sen. Barbara Mikulski

Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski doesn’t much like President Obama’s proposed $18.5 billion budget for NASA. And she likes the House Science Committee’s budget even less.

“Although I appreciated what the president advised, I found that the funding for the space program needed to be more robust,” she said. “It’s too spartan and it’s too skimpy.”

Mikulski argued that, despite recent increases, NASA was still underfunded. The 2016 request “is actually less than when Al Gore was vice president,” once corrected for inflation, she said. In fiscal year 2001, the last budget approved while Gore was in office, NASA received $14.2 billion, or nearly $19 billion in present-day dollars….

Mikulski’s promise to increase NASA’s budget puts her on a collision course with the House. While appropriators there have yet to take up a spending bill that includes NASA, an authorization bill to be marked up by the House Science Committee April 30 would offer $18.5 billion for NASA in 2016, the same amount as the administration’s request. That House bill, though, would transfer funds from Earth science and space technology programs to planetary science, the Space Launch System, and Orion.

“They are obsessed with human spaceflight and going to Mars,” she said of the House. She said that while she supported human spaceflight as well, she sought a more balanced program. “We also need space science and the kind of discovery done by technology to lay the groundwork for human discovery.”

Read the full story.

  • therealdmt

    Hmm. As long as it doesn’t come out of commercial crew and it doesn’t go into more James Webb cost overruns, I’m intrigued.

  • windbourne

    First, the GOP is NOT obsessed with human spaceflight or mars or even the moon.
    They are obsessed with diverting all monies to their districts regardless of national needs or directions.

    Secondly, while I agree with Mikulski that NASA budget needs to go up, my question is, how will she pay for it? Running up massive deficits is what happened during the 00’s, and was brought down only slightly over the last 6 years. This NEEDS to stop.
    So, how will Mikulski and other senators (read dems) increase NASA budget, while cutting the deficit?

  • Michael J. Listner

    Got news for you: the Democrats too are obsessed with diverting monies to their districts regardless of national needs or direction.

  • Terry Rawnsley

    Where is it supposed to come from, cancer research, Pell grants, Medicaid? The point is, someone’s ox is going to get gored and by someone’s reconning, the money for NASA is going to come from something equally if not more worthy.

  • therealdmt

    1) “Where is it supposed to come from, cancer research…?”

    Assuming you weren’t already well aware of it (if you were aware of it, there would be no need for a reply beyond the exercise of engaging in debate), this is verging on a straw man argument. Considering that such a mission is currently unfunded, an expansion of your argument could be, “If we are to have your mission to sample the ice plumes of Enceladus, just how many young lives are you willing to lose to pediatric cancer?” By adding “you”, I made the argument more personal than what you wrote, and I also proposed a more specific trade – like I said, it was an expansion, one which was made to make the straw man aspect more easily perceived.

    In the referred to argument, Pell grants and Medicaid served similar, if perhaps somewhat less emotionally powerful, purposes. Medicaid however is an *entitlement program* and thus doesn’t compete with NASA’s budget except in the very important sense that as entitlement spending grows, there’s less and less for items in the discretionary budget (like, say, NASA) to fight over. Somewhat similarly, Pell grants are an entitlement, though they are dealt with through discretionary budgeting, complicating matters beyond the scope of this discussion.

    2) “…by someone’s reconning, the money for NASA is going to come from something equally if not more worthy.”

    As you are aware, that is why we have a budget process. Each of of those “someone”’s is allowed to advocate for their program. None of our elected officials, including Ms. Mikulski, are king. The senator has only argued that a) NASA’s budget is “too skimpy” and stated that she would seek additional funds and b) that the House is “obsessed with human spaceflight and going to Mars”. Just because she has made that argument in no way means that any increase will occur. Similarly, those that argue for other priorities, such as say, foreign aid, are equally able to make their arguments, propose and or vote for legislation that would fund them. It’s messy, but that’s how it is done.

    Now Senator Mikulski is in a powerful position, but so are others, including certain members of House subcommittees that have proposed cutting NASA’s Earth Science budget (while increasing the SLS allotment). Much of Earth Science is run through Mikulski’s Goddard, so she is simply making a logical counter-proposal to retain those missions, plus actually increase funding (for more efforts that would largely go through Goddard – refer to the linked SpaceNews article).

    Even if Mikulski were to get what she wants in the Senate (and she almost surely won’t get everything she desires, in light of competing interests that are also well-represented in the chamber), the budget proposal then has to go to conference committee, where the differences between the bills will roughly be split.

    In other words, it’s a long and messy process, and great changes are unlikely.

  • therealdmt

    2) “…by someone’s reconning, the money for NASA is going to come from something equally if not more worthy.”

    As you are aware, that is why we have a budget process. Each of those “someones” is allowed to advocate for their program. In fact, many federally funded efforts that I have little interest in, am against, or even in some cases strongly against will have their elected officials propose spending for, vote for, even use every trick in the book to increase spending for their own programs.

    I will only mention in passing aspects like tax policy, economic growth, wasteful spending and misguided policies that can all be adjusted that serve to make the straightforward one-to-one trade offs you present an incomplete portrayal of the reality of how federal money is apportioned.

    Also, whatever Mikulski is able to achieve in terms of furthering her aims in the Senate will then be halved in conference committee (as will the House’s budget — they both take somewhat extreme positions knowing that they’ll likely get half off what they have asked for in areas where the Senate and House differ). The same goes for every other program and congressperson. The budget process is a messy one.

  • Terry Rawnsley

    I’m very much aware of why we have a budget process but I had not considered that Ms. Mikulski would be protecting her political fiefdom. It is somewhat disingeuous, however, to call my examples “straw man arguments” while calling for an exception for commercial crew.

  • therealdmt

    Why is that disingenuous? I sincerely believe that commercial crew should be funded at the requested level.

  • therealdmt

    I agree that Ms. Mikulski is working to protect her political fiefdom – in the SpaceNews article linked to in the subject article, she specifically talks about adding programs for Goddard.

  • Terry Rawnsley

    I am not arguing that commercial crew be funded at any particular level. I’d actually like to see the program get everything it needs and more. It is still a “special interest” just like cancer research or pell grants or Medicaid. There is really nothing special about it other than we’re talking about it on a website that caters to those with an interest in news on the subject.

    My point throughout is that somebody’s cow is going to get gored and whose cow is actually sacred is a completely subjective matter.

  • therealdmt

    Okay, I think I took you a little wrong.

    I actually think the point you brought up is intriguing — it got me thinking. The cancer bit pushed a button though — in some ways *all* government spending (up to the point of grossly diminishing returns) is money that could have otherwise been spent on cancer research.

    There are demonstrable benefits to spending on areas under NASA’s purview, but such doesn’t involve an existential challenge in any immediate sense. In many ways, NASA is a luxury. It’s a luxury I value though. Since you’re here, you must too.

    I apologize for coming on too strong — I now believe that you genuinely are concerned about the budget and your point was made in sincerity.

  • Terry Rawnsley

    Sometimes the hardest place to be on this site is in the middle of the road. 🙂

  • therealdmt

    Middle of the road is good!

  • Terry Rawnsley

    I did see it and we’re all good. 🙂