This is a followup to Monday’s Commercial Crew Funding Alert (at http://space-access.org/updates/sau141.html ) and yesterday’s urgent followup (at http://www.space-access.org/updates/Followup061015.html ).
Today’s Senate Appropriations Committee markup of the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations bill that funds (among others) NASA for the FY’16 fiscal year (starting this October) failed to fix the NASA Commercial Crew Program funding request cuts.
(Yesterday in the Senate CJS Subcommittee markup, the program was cut a further $100 million from the House CJS Appropriations level of $1 billion, itself a $244 million cut from NASA’s request. This coming year was supposed to be the peak funding year of the program at $1.244 billion, with first flights of both SpaceX and Boeing crew transports following in 2017. These cuts have been said likely to push that back by as much as two years.)
The amendment we mentioned as likely yesterday, to plus up the overall NASA budget by $500 million with $300 million of that to go to Commercial Crew, turned out to be part of a larger amendment aimed at breaking out of the “Sequester” mandatory limits for the entire CJS funding bill. NASA was barely mentioned and Commercial Crew not mentioned at all in today’s debate; the primary issue was the partisan difference over continuing or breaking the overall “Sequester” limits on this year’s federal budget. As such, the amendment predictably went down on a party-line vote.
We are disappointed but not surprised by today’s outcome. Even if an amendment to plus-up Commercial Crew had been standalone, it would have been a long shot today.
On the other hand, our basic issue has gained considerable positive publicity over the last twenty-four hours. Senator Nelson of Florida made a statement opposing the cuts, in which he mentioned that funding at the reduced level would push initial capabilities back two years. USA Today ran a widely-reprinted story on the issue, SpaceFlightNow.com has an excellent in-depth piece, and NASA Administrator Bolden has issued a statement making clear the damage the cuts will do.
The next step in the funding process will be consideration of this bill by the full Senate. We don’t know when that might happen – among other factors, the partisan divide over the “Sequester” has led to threats by the minority party to delay floor consideration of all Appropriations bills until a deal is worked out giving more funding to their priorities. (The Presidential veto threats are largely over the same top-level issue. If the Senate works out a compromise chances are good the White House will go along.)
We recommend that all of you who care about this issue should continue working to persuade your Senators to support full funding. The full Senate does much of what it does by unanimous consent (with details worked out behind the scenes), so all it takes sometimes is one Senator who cares enough about an issue to force changes.
One wild card in all this is the bill language (and the accompanying Committee Report) details. That may not be available for another day or two. More on that when we know more.