NASA Appropriations Bills
Congress is now in summer recess, but temperatures are still cooling from the flurry of activity during the final days of July.
In the period of just a week, the Senate moved the VA-HUD-IA Appropriations Bill (H.R. 2158) from subcommittee markup to passage on the Senate floor -- a record. The Senate bill provides $13.5 billion for NASA in 1998, the amount requested by the Administration and $200 million less than current spending.
Senator Bond (R-MO), chairman of the Appropriations VA-HUD-IA Subcommittee, praised NASA's Pathfinder mission and pledged to work with the space agency to allow flexibility while controlling costs. Senator Mikulski (D-MD), the subcommittee's ranking member, said the VA-HUD-IA bill is an "excellent start." In a floor speech, she praised the Sojourner rover, Mission to Planet Earth, and the Hubble Space Telescope.
Senator Glenn (D-OH) gave a detailed speech in support of the International Space Station that highlighted the opportunities for microgravity research. He discussed the value of putting older astronauts in space to determine how they respond to a weightless environment. And he said it was an "insult" to require NASA to certify that the Mir space station was safe. Glenn, a former astronaut, stated that NASA always holds as its highest priority the safety of astronauts and it would never have placed men and women aboard Mir unless it was fully confident the facility was safe.
The only space amendment offered to the VA-HUD-IA bill was a measure by Senator Dale Bumpers (D-AR) to kill the International Space Station. Bumpers acknowledged in his opening remarks that he has repeatedly failed to garner enough votes to pass his legislation. Still, he said the amendment was "something I strongly believe in."
Bumpers said he supported the Mars Pathfinder mission. It is what "NASA should be doing." However, the Arkansas senator said "we do not need a manned mission to Mars."
Bumpers quoted an array of scientists who oppose the space station. He discussed the findings from a new GAO report that criticize Boeing for continuing cost overruns. Bumpers attacked NASA for miscalculating the number of EVA hours that will be required to assemble the station. And he said research aboard the orbiting laboratory is "going to get you nothing." "I'll eat my hat," he said, "if it will cure anything."
Mikulski defended the station, urging her Senate colleagues to "stay the course." Bond called the station a "world class research laboratory." Senator Burns (R-MT) said America should "dare to dream" and "dare to do it [build the station]." Senator Hutchison (R-TX), Senator Bennett (R-UT), and Senator Gramm (R-TX) also gave speeches in defense of the space station.
The Bumpers amendment was defeated by a vote of 69 to 31, the largest margin since Bumpers first offered legislation to torpedo the station. Last year's vote was 60 to 37.
September Schedule: Appropriations
When Congress returns from recess, House and Senate conferees will meet to reconcile their versions into a final VA-HUD-IA bill. These are the current differences between the two bills: the Senate would provide funding equal to the amount of the President's request, while the House would give $148 million above the request. In addition, the House report would give the NASA Administrator transfer authority to reallocate up to $150 million from NASA's Science, Aeronautics and Technology, and Mission Support, accounts to the space station program "if necessary to keep the space station program on schedule." The Senate report makes no mention of this transfer authority, although it does permit reallocation of some current year funding. If the House language is not specifically reversed in the conference report, it will remain in effect.
September Schedule: Commercial Space Act
The Commercial Space Act for 1997, H.R. 1702, is expected to come to the floor for full House vote in mid-September. Discussions are still taking place with the Senate as to whether they will introduce a separate bill or incorporate language from H.R. 1702 into the Senate Authorization Bill that is currently being drafted. "Word on the Hill" is that there is the best chance in many years for the Senate to actually pass an Authorization bill for NASA, which has not happened since the early '90s.
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