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Senate Defeats Reid Plan, All Eyes on White House Now

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 31-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

The Senate defeated Majority Leader Harry Reid's attempt to bring to the floor his plan to raise the debt limit and reduce the deficit. The vote was 50-49; 60 aye votes were needed to bring the bill to the floor.

All eyes are now on the White House where the President and representatives of both parties reportedly continue to work on a compromise. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said earlier today that a compromise was "very close," but the New York Times quoted Senator Reid after the vote as saying a number of issues remain to be resolved.

Reid Postpones Senate Vote; National Journal Reports Outlines of Compromise

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 31-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

Washington news sources are reporting as good news a decision by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to postpone a vote on his version of a debt limit/deficit reduction bill.

The vote had been scheduled for 1:00 am EDT Sunday (minutes from now), but will take place at 1:00 pm instead to give negotiators more time.

National Journal is reporting that a new compromise has been reached, one that President Obama rejected last weekend, but is now back on the table. According to its account (subscription required), it involves a very short-term extension of the debt limit (days, not weeks) to give Congress additional time, and then an extension that would last through 2012. It would still include creation of a special congressional committee to come up with recommendations on how to cut the deficit. That was in both the Boehner and Reid bills and is now being called a "super committee." It would have to report by Thanksgiving on cutting $1.8 trillion over ten years on top of $1 trillion that would be cut by capping discretionary spending. No "new net tax" revenues would be part of the committee's deliberations.

Capping discretionary spending for the next 10 years would be, of course, a serious impediment to NASA, NOAA and DOD space programs, all of which are part of the discretionary budget.

Congress Continues Playing Politics on Debt Limit

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

To the extreme dissatisfaction of House Democrats, House Republicans today brought up the text of the bill that Senator Harry Reid introduced in the Senate and defeated it to demonstrate that it does not have sufficient bipartisan support in the House to pass. However, it was brought up under a procedure that requires a two-thirds vote to pass, much more than the majority vote that is needed typically.

House Rules Committee Chairman David Drier (R-CA) said during floor debate this afternoon that House Republicans were doing this to demostrate that the Reid plan would not pass the House despite Senator Reid's assertion that it would. The bill has not passed the Senate yet; a vote is expected in the wee hours overnight. It was introduced as a House bill and quickly moved to the floor.

Democrats pointed out that if the Boehner plan that narrowly passed the House yesterday had been brought up under the same procedure, it would not have passed either.

The upshot is that the two sides do not appear any closer to compromise than yesterday, as August 2 draws ever closer. In fact, the rhetoric seems to be heating up. Senator Reid (D-NV) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) reportedly were going to meet with President Obama this afternoon.

Vote on Revised Boehner Plan Expected Today

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

For those of you breathlessly following the political wrangling over the debt limit/deficit reduction debate, the latest news is that Speaker John Boehner has revised his proposal to garner more Republican support and a vote will take place later today.

The Hill newspaper reports that agreement was reached this morning to add a balanced budget amendment to what the Speaker previously proposed. The House already passed the "cut-cap-balance" bill last week that included a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, but the Senate rejected it. Some Senators have indicated that they would support a stand-alone balanced budget amendment, but not one that it tied to raising the debt limit or deficit reduction.

If a balanced budget amendment were to pass the House and Senate and be signed into law, it would have to be ratified by three-quarters of the States before taking effect.

Meanwhile, whatever passes the House needs to pass the Senate and get the President's signature. This morning the President once again spoke to the nation and called on Congress to pass something that he can sign by Tuesday. He said that the House bill does not have the support of a majority of Republicans and Democrats in the Senate and whatever passes must be bipartisan. He ended by saying that he is "confident that common sense and cooler heads will prevail."


UPDATED: HSS&T Releases Witness List for LightSquared Hearing

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: This hearing was rescheduled to September 8, 2011 from its original date of August 3. The witness list is the same.

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee today released the witness list for its hearing on LightSquared next week.

The committee's press release says that the following people will testify:

Mr. Anthony Russo, Director, The National Coordination Office for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing

Ms. Mary Glackin, Deputy Under Secretary, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Mr. Badri Younes, Deputy Associate Administrator, Space Communications and Navigation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Mr. Peter Appel, Administrator, Research and Innovative Technology Administration, Department of Transportation

Dr. David Applegate, Associate Director, Natural Hazards, U.S. Geological Survey

Dr. Scott Pace, Director, Space Policy Institute, George Washington University

The topic is Impacts of the LightSquared Network on Federal Science Activities. LightSquared is trying to get permission from the Federal Communications Commission to build a terrestrial system to augment its existing satellite system for mobile broadband communications. Opponents of the terrestrial system assert that it will interefere with Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers. Several technical studies demonstrate that interference will indeed occur in at least part of the spectrum band LightSquared plans to use. The company blames GPS receiver manufacturers rather than its plan, but recently suggested that it initiate operations in only part of the band while a resolution is sought for the rest.

The hearing is on Wednesday, August 3, at 10:00 am in 2318 Rayburn House Office Building.

UPDATE: House Debt Limit Vote Still on Hold

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy has announced that there will be no vote tonight on the bill. Speaker Boehner still has not convinced 216 of his Republican members to vote in favor of it.

Washington is on pins and needles tonight waiting for the House to vote on Speaker John Boehner's debt limit/deficit reduction plan.

The vote was supposed to be taken at 6:00 pm, but has been postponed apparently while the Republican House leadership tries to round up 216 Republican votes to pass it. Senate Democrats have made clear that the Boehner plan will not pass the Senate even if it ultimately passes the House, but that is step two. Everyone is focused now on step one.

Earlier today Speaker Boehner acknowledged that he did not have 216 votes among his Republican colleagues, which is essential since no Democrats are expected to vote in factor of the plan. It would increase the debt limit only for six months, forcing another showdown early next year. Democrats are strongly opposed to leaving the U.S. economy in limbo and fighting this fight again in an election year.

The House Republican leadership is pulling out all the stops to get enough Republican votes in favor, but Tea Party conservative Republicans oppose the plan because the spending cuts it envisions are not deep enough.

Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Boehner Bill Narrowly Passes House, Tabled in Senate

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: More details on the House action and information on Senate action are added.

House Speaker John Boehner's debt limit/deficit reduction bill passed the House by a vote of 218-210. Less than two hours later, the Senate voted to table the bill.

In the House, all Democrats and 22 Republicans voted against the measure. In the Senate, the vote was 59-41 to table the bill. Senate Majority Leader Reid also took steps to bring up his own bill. Votes on that are expected late Saturday or Sunday.

There are two major differences between the House and Senate bills. The House bill would raise the debt limit for only for a few months while the Senate bill would raise it until 2013 -- after the next election cycle. Also, the House bill would make any future increase in the debt limit contingent on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution being signed into law and sent to the States for ratification. The Senate version would require only that the House and Senate have a vote on such an amendment, not ordain its outcome. Both bills would create a congressional commission to make recommendations on how to cut the deficit.

UPDATE: Bush Science Adviser Marburger Dies

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: A link to current Science Adviser John Hodren's statement is added.

Dr. John H. Marburger III passed away yesterday. He served as Science Adviser to President George W. Bush.

Marbuger was the third president of State University of New York Stony Brook and the current president, Samuel Stanley, announced the passing of this "admired scientist and beloved gentleman." Marburger had battled non-Hodgkins lymphona for four years according to the Washington Post. He was 70.

He presided over the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) during the entire Bush presidency. During the Augustine Committee deliberations on the future of the U.S. human spaceflight program, Marbuger gave a frank account of his perspective on President Bush's 2004 Vision for Space Exploration that surprised many.

He was not enthusiastic about how the Vision had been implemented, with its almost single-minded focus on getting astronauts back to the Moon by 2020 and on to Mars. "It would be a mistake to assume that the actual development path for space exploration since 2004 has accurately reflected the overall concept of the Vision," he said.

Dr. John Holdren, the current presidential science adviser, issued a statement praising Marburger's public service and scientific contributions.


Senate Committee Subpoenas NASA SLS Documents

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee subpoenaed NASA documents relating to its design of the Space Launch System (SLS) according to news reports and other sources.


Space News and NASAWatch are among the news sources reporting that the subpoena was issued. Space News says it was sent yesterday.

The bipartisan leadership of the Senate committee and its Science and Space subcommittee sent a letter to NASA in June asking for documents relating to the SLS and warned the agency that it would take further steps if the documents were not produced.

Congress directed NASA to develop a heavy lift launch vehicle (HLLV) or Space Launch System (SLS) in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act. The Obama Administration cancelled the Bush-era HLLV, Ares V, in its FY2011 budget request. It wanted NASA to subsidize private sector companies to build a "commercial crew" transportation system for use in low Earth orbit (LEO) while NASA developed game-changing technologies for new launch vehicles to someday take astronauts beyond LEO. Congress disagreed. The compromise in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act was for NASA to do both, but Congress feels that NASA is dragging its feet on the SLS.

NASA sent an interim report to Congress in January on the SLS, but the date for the final report continues to slip. NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, who until recently indicated that the plan would be released this summer, told the House Science, Space and Technology Committee on July 12 that it may not be ready until the fall because he has asked for independent cost estimates.

Obama Supports Weather Satellites as NOAA's GOES-11 Helps Injured Alaskan Hikers

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

President Obama included weather satellites as an example of the type of program that really does need federal funding in his speech to the nation on Monday. Weather satellites are not just critical to weather forecasting, either. As the survivors of the recent grizzly bear attack in Alaska know, NOAA's satellites are part of the global emergency locator system for people in distress.

In a story that made national headlines, a group of seven students hiking in Alaska were attacked by a mother grizzly bear. Four of the students were injured and two required hospitalization. Other members of the group activated an emergency locator transmitter to get help. NOAA's GOES-11 geostationary satellite picked up the signal and helped identify their location. One of Europe's polar orbiting weather satellites further pinpointed it, allowing rescuers to reach the group about 93 miles north of Anchorage.

The United States, Canada, France and the Soviet Union decided to form the international COSPAS-SARSAT satellite-based search and rescue system in 1979. The transponders are placed on weather satellites. The system has supported more than 28,000 rescues worldwide since 1982 when the first COSPAS-SARSAT equipped satellite was launched.

On Monday, President Obama addressed the nation about the debt limit/deficit reduction stalemate. In his remarks about the need for a balanced approach to resolving those issues he said:

"We all want a government that lives within its means, but there are still things we need to pay for as a country -- things like new roads and bridges; weather satellites and food inspection; services to veterans and medical research."

The House Appropriations Committee approved significant cuts to NOAA's satellite programs in marking up the Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill on July 13. The bill has not passed the House and the Senate has not acted yet.

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