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FAA's Nield Endorses Woerner's Moon Village, But With Commercial Partners Too

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 24-Oct-2015 (Updated: 24-Oct-2015 04:21 PM)

The head of the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA's) commercial space office, George Nield, endorsed the Moon village concept espoused by European Space Agency (ESA) Director General Johann-Dietrich Woerner, but called for inclusion of the commercial sector, not only governments, in building and operating it.

Nield spoke at the October 21 meeting of the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC), which advises his office.  Noting that he had just returned from the International Astronautical Congress in Jerusalem, Nield quickly summarized a panel discussion among the heads of a number of space agencies represented there.  Woerner was one of them.  He became ESA DG on July 1 after serving as the head of Germany's space agency, DLR.

Woerner has been advocating for construction of a village -- Lunarville -- on the far side of the Moon where telescopes emplaced there would be protected from the light and noise of Earth.  The concept envisions use of inflatable modules and 3D printing to build additional infrastructure using lunar resources -- called In Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU). Crops would be grown in greenhouses to support researchers rotating on regular schedules. 

The idea is not new, but having a champion at the head of ESA is.   He sees it as a successor to the International Space Station (ISS) and, like ISS, built as an international collaborative endeavor.

President Obama decided in 2010 that the United States will not return astronauts to the lunar surface.  Instead, he directed NASA to send them to an asteroid as a step towards eventual human missions to Mars.  NASA has developed a step-wise approach where U.S. spacecraft will operate near the Moon (in "cis-lunar space"), but not go down to the surface.  However, NASA officials are strongly encouraging other countries to pursue lunar surface operations, especially ISRU, which could have advantages for achieving the humans-to-Mars goal.  The United States could partner with these other countries, providing transportation to lunar orbit with the Space Launch System, for example.

Nield, who heads FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST), said he was "particularly impressed" with Woerner's vision, especially since it allows countries to participate "as much or as little" as they wish and minimizes the need for a top-down management structure where one country specifies the architecture and is "calling all the shots."  However, he wanted to offer a "modest suggestion" -- open it up to commercial entities. 

Calling commercial opportunities "limitless," he offered examples ranging from habitats and hotels to commercial electrical power stations (using solar arrays) to propellant depots to food production to rocket-powered lunar orbit/surface shuttle buses to rovers for getting around on the lunar surface -- joking that it is too early to tell if the latter will be Yellow Cab or Uber.  "Private industry has the potential to play an important role and it need not be exclusively as a government contractor," he enthused.

Later Nield also lamented that no U.S. government agency has yet been assigned the task of authorizing or supervising such commercial activities.   Article VI of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty requires that "activities of non-governmental entities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall require authorization and continuing supervision" by the relevant State party to the treaty.   Some in the commercial space sector argue that AST's responsibilities should be expanded to include that role.  Currently it is limited to facilitating and regulating commercial launches to and reentries from space.   Others think the Department of Commerce's Office of Space Commercialization would be a better fit.

Nield also pointed out that his office's resources are quite constrained in handling its existing responsibilities.   President Obama is requesting a $1.5 million increase for AST -- from $16.605 million to $18.114 million -- in FY2016, but Congress has not been enthusiastic.  The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently said that AST may indeed need more money, but does a poor job of justifying it.   In any case, AST like the rest of the government is currently operating under a Continuing Resolution (CR) that holds the office to its FY2015 spending level.

At the very end, COMSTAC members debated whether they should issue a finding, observation or recommendation about the potential role of the commercial sector in a lunar village asking for AST to engage with ESA to refine ideas.  They decided to ask COMSTAC's  International Space Policy working group to draft something for future discussion.

Obama Vetoes FY2016 NDAA

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-Oct-2015 (Updated: 22-Oct-2015 11:31 PM)

As promised, President Obama vetoed the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) today (Thursday).  The primary reason is a "gimmick" it uses to add funds for defense in an off-budget account, but he also cited two other reasons:  it prevents needed reforms and does not allow closing of Guantanamo.

Obama had threatened to veto the bill, but since he had not followed through on NDAA veto threats in prior years, many wondered if he would this time.

In a statement, the President said the bill, H.R. 1735, "does a number of good things" but "falls woefully short in three areas."   First, it does not eliminate the sequester but "resorts to gimmicks that does not allow the Pentagon to do what it needs to do."   That is a reference to the congressional decision to add $38 billion to defense spending in an off-budget account, Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), rather than negotiating new budget caps for all government spending, defense and non-defense, that would replace across-the-board cuts known as a sequester agreed to in the 2011 Budget Control Act.

Second, it "prevents a wide range of reforms that are necessary for us to get our military modernized...  We have repeatedly put forward a series of reforms eliminating programs that the Pentagon does not want -- Congress keeps stepping back in, and we end up wasting money."

Third, it impedes "our ability to close Guantanamo in a way that I have repeatedly argued is counterproductive to our efforts to defeat terrorism around the world."

He called on Congress to change the bill to address those shortcomings.

In response, the chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees (HASC and SASC) called the veto "reckless, cynical, and downright dangerous."   Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) accused the President of using the defense bill "as political leverage for his domestic agenda." 

Their statement said the House will vote on November 5 to override the veto. When the final version of the bill passed the House on October 1, there were insufficient votes to override a veto., however.   Two-thirds of the House and Senate would need to vote in favor of overriding the veto for the effort to succeed.  That is 290 votes in the House.  If all 247 Republicans voted to override the veto, they would need to convince 43 Democrats to join them, but only 37 Democrats voted for the bill.  All of those, plus six more, would have to make a more difficult political decision to vote against their President's veto.

This is only the fifth bill the President has vetoed since he took office.  The others were the 2010 Continuing Appropriations bill (in 2009), the 2010 Interstate Recognition of Notarizations Act, the 2015 Keystone XL Pipeline Approval Act, and the 2015 Joint Resolution providing for congressional disapproval of the rule submitted by the National Labor Relations Board relating to representative case procedures.


Obama Will Veto NDAA Today

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-Oct-2015 (Updated: 22-Oct-2015 08:53 AM)

President Obama will veto the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) this afternoon according to the President's schedule.

The bill cleared Congress on October 7 under a veto threat because of a budgetary maneuver -- which critics call a "gimmick" -- to add money to the defense budget without exceeding agreed-upon caps by putting it in an off-budget account, Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO).   The President and congressional Democrats want to renegotiate the budget caps for all spending, defense and non-defense, rather than favoring only DOD.

According to the President's schedule, he will veto the bill, H.R. 1735, late this afternoon in the Oval Office following a meeting with Bill Kellor, editor-in-chief of the Marshall Project, on criminal justice reform.

Al Gore's Space Dream Fulfilled -- Daily Streaming of Planet Earth

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-Oct-2015 (Updated: 19-Oct-2015 10:35 PM)

At long last, a goal established by Vice President Al Gore in the 1990s has been fulfilled.  Today NASA opened a new website that will show constant photos of planet Earth from the Sun-Earth L1 Lagrange point (SEL-1) taken by a camera aboard the DSCOVR spacecraft.

Gore's plan was just that -- a spacecraft whose primary purpose was to make pictures of Earth constantly available to the public to highlight its fragility and the need to take care of the environment.  The spacecraft was named Triana after a sailor, Rodrigo de Triana, on one of Columbus' ships who first spotted North America. 

The spacecraft was built and ready for launch by the end of Clinton-Gore Administration, but then fell victim to politics.  Derisively called "Goresat," it was put into storage in 2001 when George W. Bush became President following the bitter 2000 Gore-Bush presidential election.

Originally, Triana was an earth observing spacecraft with Gore's camera -- Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) -- and a radiometer to measure Earth's albedo as the primary instruments.  Two space weather instruments were also included as secondary payloads.   At the time, space weather observations were provided by NASA's relatively new Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE).   As the years passed, however, it became apparent that a replacement for ACE would be needed.   In 2008, NOAA successfully argued for Triana to be brought out of storage, refurbished and launched with a role reversal where space weather would be the primary mission and earth observations secondary.

Agreement was reached where NOAA would pay NASA tor refurbishing the spacecraft and the two space weather instruments (NASA is NOAA's spacecraft acquisition agent), NASA would pay to refurbish the two earth observation instruments, and the Air Force, which also needs space weather forecasts, would pay for the launch.  NOAA renamed it the Deep Space Climate Observatory -- DSCOVR.

Launched on February 11, 2015, it took 110 days for DSCOVR to reach SEL-1, just under 1 million miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth.   Since then, the spacecraft and instruments have been undergoing check-out. 

Finally today, NASA announced the availability of a website that fulfills Gore's dream.  NASA will post at least a dozen pictures of the sunlit side of Earth each day taken by the EPIC camera 12-36 hours earlier. The resolution of the images is 6.2-9.4 miles (10-15 kilometers).  Today there are 19 images and clicking "play" in the upper left hand corner will show the globe turning on its axis.

North and South America, as seen by the EPIC camera on the NASA-NOAA-Air Force Deep Space Climate Observatory
(DSCOVR) spacecraft, October 2015.   Photo credit: NASA

What's Happening in Space Policy October 19-23, 2015

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Oct-2015 (Updated: 18-Oct-2015 05:55 PM)

Here is our list of space policy related events for the week of October 19-23, 2015 and any insight we can offer about them.  The Senate returns to work tomorrow (Monday) and the House on Tuesday.

During the Week

Congress does not have any public events on the schedule that are specifically about the space program, but a vote could come early this week on reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank.   Rep. Steve Fincher (R-TN) succeeded in getting the 218 signatures he needed for a discharge petition to move the bill out of the Financial Services Committee to the House floor for a vote.  He and other Ex-Im supporters have long asserted that there are more than enough votes in the House to pass a reauthorization if only the Members were given the chance.  We soon may find out if they are correct.

Behind the scenes, efforts reportedly are continuing to reach agreement on a final version of commercial space legislation that passed the House and Senate earlier this year (H.R. 2262/S. 1297).  The FAA's Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) will hold its quarterly meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday, so a progress report may be presented there.  Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX), who chairs the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, and Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) will speak on Wednesday morning at 8:30 am ET and 11:15 am ET respectively.  The meeting will be webcast (see the agenda for instructions).

The FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) may finally be sent to the White House.  The President will have 10 days (not including Sundays) to decide whether to sign or veto it.  The bill, H.R. 1735, cleared Congress on October 7.  It is not uncommon for clerks to need a few days to make "technical and conforming changes" to ensure there are no typos and that cross references are correct, and Congress was in recess last week, so it is still on the Hill, not in the Oval Office, and the clock has not started ticking.  President Obama has often threatened to veto the NDAA, but never has.  The dispute this year is over top level government-wide budgetary issues, not defense policy, however, so the dynamics are somewhat different.

The House has eight working days (four this week, four next week) before House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) resigns, according to his original plan at least.  Rep. Kevin McCarthy's withdrawal from the Speaker's race threw the leadership process into turmoil.  Boehner said he would not leave before a successor is in place, so time will tell if he gets to close the door behind him by the end of the month or not.  In the meantime, Congress needs to pass a reauthorization of the Highway Trust Fund bill by October 29 and raise the debt limit by November 3.   Since Boehner has demonstrated willingness to use Democratic votes to get critical legislation passed when the right wing of his party creates roadblocks, he could use the eight days to get those two tasks done, at least.   The United States exceeded the $18.1 trillion debt limit in March and the Treasury Department has been using "extraordinary measures" to pay the bills (by not paying its share into the retirement accounts of federal employee for example).  Its ability to scrape by that way is running out.  On Thursday, Treasury notified Congress that the last day is November 3, two days earlier than a previous projection.

As for funding the government for the rest of the fiscal year, the Continuing Resolution runs out on December 11.  Not much progress is being reported on talks among Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and President Obama on an overall agreement on spending caps through the end of the presidential election next year.  Boehner's imminent departure is one handicap, but in Washington little gets done until the last minute anyway.  A lot will depend on who replaces Boehner as House Speaker and how well that person works with McConnell.  McConnell and Boehner have been united on their rejection of government shutdowns as a political strategy (they both also pledge they will never allow the government to default on its debt).

Off the Hill, there is an array of fascinating meetings scheduled for the coming week.  In addition to COMSTAC, the annual Space Weather Enterprise Forum is on Tuesday and Wednesday (note that it is in different locations on those two days); NASA's Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG) meets Tuesday-Thursday in Columbia, MD; and the NASA Advisory Council's Astrophysics Subcommittee meets at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center on Thursday and Friday.

Women in Aerospace will hold its 30th annual awards ceremony at the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City in Arlington, VA  on Thursday night.  

The same night but a few hundred miles away in Dayton, OH, the National Museum of the Air Force will hold what promises to be a fascinating panel discussion on the 1960's Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) space station program (cancelled before it was built).  Six of the men selected for the MOL astronaut corps will talk about the program.  Three of them transferred to NASA after MOL was cancelled, one of whom, Dick Truly, eventually became NASA Administrator.  Unfortunately, the museum says it will not webcast the event, but audio will be posted on its website a week or two later and DVDs will be available for loan at some point.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.  Check the Events of Interest calendar on our main page for updates throughout the week.

Tuesday-Wednesday, October 20-21

  • COMSTAC, 429 L'Enfant Plaza, Washington, DC
  • Space Weather Enterprise Forum
    October 20:  902 Hart Senate Office Building
    October 21:  Department of Commerce Building auditorium, 14th Street and Constitution Ave, NW, Washington, DC

Tuesday-Thursday, October 20-22

Wednesday-Thursday, October 21-22

Thursday, October 22

Thursday-Friday, October 22-23

Jeb Bush Wants Aspirational Goals for NASA

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Oct-2015 (Updated: 15-Oct-2015 11:55 PM)

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush enthusiastically called for NASA to pursue aspirational goals in concert with the private sector during a campaign Town Hall meeting yesterday.  The former Florida governor has previously expressed his support for the space program.

Bush spoke at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord, NH, which honors two New Hampshire astronauts -- Alan Shepard, the first American in space, and Christa McAuliffe, the Teacher in Space who perished in the space shuttle Challenger accident in 1986.

Asked what he would do as President to get Congress to allocate more money to NASA to restore U.S. leadership in space, Bush said "I think we need to be more aspirational again."   He criticized the Obama Administration for making the United States reliant on Russia for launching people into space and stressed the need for an independent means for getting crews to the space station.  

He did not lay out his own proposals for space exploration, but said he considered the lunar colonization plans espoused by Newt Gingrich in the 2012 presidential campaign to be "pretty cool."  Gingrich was widely panned at the time.  Bush defended those ideas, however.  "What's wrong about having big, lofty aspirational goals," he asked, insisting that the "benefits ... are far more than people realize."

On the other hand, he added that "NASA should not try to be all things to all people" and "partner with the dreamers in the private sector, Elon Musk and others" who can bring "intensity and creativity to the process."

The meeting was taped by C-SPAN and this exchange begins at about 1:01:25.

Bush did not specifically refer to the Obama Administration ending President George W. Bush's Constellation program to return astronauts to the Moon by 2020.  Instead he referred to it cancelling an expendable launch vehicle program in which the State of Florida invested $50 million that he thought was either for Northrop Grumman or Lockheed Martin to build and design an interim replacement for the space shuttle that would lead to a new generation of launch vehicles that would dramatically reduce the cost of launch.  He said the Obama Administration cancelled that program in its first year, creating U.S. dependence on Russia for access to the space station.  He may have been referring to the Ares I upper stage contract won by a Boeing-Northrop Grumman team, beating out an ATK-Lockeed Martin team.  ATK was the prime contractor for the Ares I program overall.  Ares I would have been used to send crews to the space station on Orion capsules, with a larger version, Ares V, sending them to the Moon.

It was the Bush Administration that decided to terminate the space shuttle before a replacement for low Earth orbit operations (Ares I with an Orion capsule) was ready.  That is what originally created U.S. dependency on Russia for what was expected to be a four-year gap (2010-2014).  The Obama Administration adopted the Bush decision to terminate the space shuttle, although it added two more shuttle flights so the program extended through mid-2011.  It replaced Ares I/Orion with the commercial crew program, intending to have commercial vehicles ready by 2015, also a four-year gap.  That gap has grown to at least six years.   The Obama Administration blames congressional underfunding of the commercial crew program for the delay.

As last night's event began, Bush cited the U.S.-Soviet space race at the dawn of the Space Age as lighting a fire under America that led to landing men on the Moon and "defied the imagination of everyone."  America needs to continue doing that "whether to explore the stars or explore the brain."

As the former Governor of Florida, home of Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, it is not surprising the Bush is more familiar with space issues than other presidential candidates.  In an earlier campaign event, he referred to himself as "a space guy."   His campaign website does not lay out any plans or policies related to space, however.

No Waiver for ULA for GPS III Launch Contract

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Oct-2015 (Updated: 14-Oct-2015 09:38 PM)

The Department of Defense (DOD) has decided not to issue a waiver from current legal restrictions on the number of RD-180 engines the United Launch Alliance (ULA) can obtain to launch national security satellites.  The issue arose after the Air Force issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) to launch a GPS III satellite and ULA indicated it might not be able to bid on the launch because of an insufficient supply of engines for its Atlas V rocket.

In a statement emailed to, Deputy Secretary of Defense spokesperson Lt. Cmdr. Courtney Hillson pointed to several restrictions, including legal constraints, that are complicating DOD's efforts to ensure it has two sources of launch services.   The 2013 National Space Transportation Policy reasserts long standing guidance that the Secretary of Defense ensure "to the maximum extent practicable, the availability of at least two U.S. space transportation vehicle families capable of reliably launching national security payloads."

Since 2006, ULA, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, has been a monopoly supplier of those services with its two launch vehicle families -- Atlas V and Delta IV, so-called Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELVs).   This year, the Air Force certified SpaceX to compete for EELV launches with its Falcon 9 rocket.   ULA contends that Delta IV, the largest in the current U.S. fleet, is too expensive to compete successfully for launch contracts, leaving it with only Atlas V as a SpaceX competitor.  If ULA cannot bid on the GPS III launch contract because it does not have sufficient RD-180 engines, SpaceX would be the only supplier, undermining the two-launcher policy, the reasoning goes.

ULA President Tory Bruno made a statement last week that ULA might not be able to bid on the GPS III contract because of the restrictions placed by Congress in the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on the number of RD-180 engines it can obtain from Russia.  Congress is determined to end U.S. reliance on Russian engines as quickly as possible in the aftermath of Russia's actions in Ukraine and instead build an alternative U.S. engine.  DOD agrees in principle, but there is substantial debate about the timing of the transition from RD-180s to a new American engine and therefore how many RD-180s are needed.  The FY2016 NDAA, which has cleared Congress but is under a veto threat from the President, continues restrictions, with a total of nine more engines allowed.  Both the FY2015 and FY2016 NDAAs allow the Secretary of Defense to grant a waiver from the restrictions under certain circumstances, however, raising the question as to whether such a waiver would be granted for the GPS III launch.

The answer is no, for now at least.  Hillson's statement says DOD does "not believe any immediate action is required ... although we will continue to evaluate the need..."   The Department will examine a "range of options ... while developing a long term acquisition strategy."   If necessary, "sole source allocation of some launches" will be one of those options.

GPS III is the newest generation of Global Positioning System positioning, navigation and timing satellites.  The RFP for launch of one GPS III was issued on September 30 and bids are due November 16.   It is the first of nine competitive launch services planned in the FY2016 budget for awards using FY2015-2017 funding.

What's Happening in Space Policy October 12-16, 2015

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Oct-2015 (Updated: 11-Oct-2015 08:59 AM)

Here is our list of space policy related events coming up this week and any insight we can offer about them.  Congress is in recess this week.

During the Week

Monday is a Federal holiday, Columbus Day.  Congress is using the holiday as a reason to take the entire week off from their Washington duties and work in their districts instead.  Not that there isn't a lot to do in Washington.  The Highway Trust Fund's ability to spend money to fix highways and bridges expires on October 29 because three months ago agreement could not be reached on a longer term reauthorization.   The debt limit needs to be raised by November 5.  It actually was reached back in March, but Treasury has been using "extraordinary means" to pay the bills, but even those have a finite lifetime.  But perhaps the week off will give the House Republicans time to figure out what they want to do about electing new leadership before Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) departs Congress on October 30 -- though he said last week he would stay till a replacement is elected.

Anyway, the big space policy action this week is way outside of Washington -- in Jerusalem, Israel where the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) officially begins tomorrow, though pre-conference activities are already underway. IAC combines meetings of the International Astronautical Federation, International Academy of Astronautics, and International Institute of Space Law (including the finals of the Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot Court).

For those who didn't make the trip, there's not a lot going on, though the Space Studies Board's Committee on Solar and Space Physics will meet at the Keck Center in D.C. on Wednesday and Thursday.   There are open sessions each day and they are available via WebEx.

The first Democratic presidential primary debate is on Tuesday night, but it would be surprising if the space program comes up so we don't include it on our calendar.   For those who are interested, it is in Las Vegas and will air on CNN at 9:00 pm ET.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are listed below.   Check back throughout the week for any new events that get posted to our Events of Interest calendar on the right side of our main page.

Monday-Friday, October 12-16, 2015

Wednesday, October 14

Wednesday-Thursday, October 14-15

Friday-Saturday, October 16-17

Restoring Ex-Im Bank Effort Gets a Boost As Discharge Petition Succeeds

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Oct-2015 (Updated: 09-Oct-2015 10:49 PM)

Congressional efforts to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank took a step forward today when a sufficient number of House members signed a discharge position to move legislation, H.R. 597, out of the Financial Services Committee and onto the House floor for a vote.  The vote could take place as early as October 26, the day the House returns from a week-long recess.

Three Republican Congressmen, Steve Fincher (Tennessee), Adam Kinzinger (Illinois) and Chris Collins (New York) filed the discharge petition today, a procedural step to discharge a bill from the committee of jurisdiction so it can be voted on by the House when the committee itself will not do so.  Fincher is the sponsor of H.R. 597. 

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) opposes the Bank and has been using his position as chairman of the Bank's oversight committee to prevent Fincher's bill, the Reform Exports and Expand the American Economy Act, from moving to the House floor for a vote.  The issue also is divisive in the Senate, but that chamber has managed to pass legislation reauthorizing the bank.  The Senate-passed legislation has been blocked in the House, however, where House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) also opposes the Bank.

It is highly unusual for the members of a political party to challenge their own leaders so publicly, but they believe that a majority of the House supports the Bank and the obstacle to its reauthorization is only a small, but powerful group of their own members.

Fincher revealed his strategy to circumvent Hensarling and other Republican leaders last week and today followed through.  In a joint statement, Fincher, Kinzinger and Collins said the discharge petition is intended "to stand up to Washington's broken system that is killing thousands of American jobs and jeopardizing thousands more. ... If we do not get this done for the American people, the only thing our country will be exporting is jobs."

Hensarling issued his own statement asserting that a majority of Republicans on his committee did not want a House floor vote on the issue.  "I respect my colleagues who believe Ex-Im is essential economic development, just as I respect those who believe Ex-Im is unfair and harmful corporate welfare."  He warned his Republican colleagues that signing the discharge position contradicts regular order and puts Democrats in charge (because a large number of Democratic signatures are needed).  "Let Democrats own corporate welfare all by themselves.  Republicans should instead focus on reforms that will give every American opportunities to succeed" such as "fundamental tax reform, tort reform and regulatory reform."

A discharge petition requires a majority of House members -- 218 -- to sign and exactly that number did so today.  According to the tally from the House Clerk's office, 42 Republicans and 176 Democrats signed the petition.  The bill should now move to the floor for a vote.  The House is in recess next week, but a vote could come on October 26 when it returns.

The Bank has been unable to issue new loans since its authorization expired on June 30.   It finances U.S. exports abroad, including aerospace products such as communications satellites.  The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) and Satellite Industry Association (SIA) both advocate for the Bank.  SIA issued a statement earlier this week calling for its reauthorization.

The Bank was created in 1934, but its charter must be periodically reauthorized by Congress, something done routinely over the decades.  Since last fall, however, the reauthorization has become a matter of bitter debate. The issue splits the Republican and Democratic parties with some members of each insisting that the bank is essential to U.S. exports and therefore to U.S. jobs, while others assert it is corporate welfare for a few big companies.  Boeing is often mentioned in the latter regard.  Advocates claim that small and medium size businesses also benefit not only because of their own projects, but because many are suppliers to the big companies. 

The Bank's authorization expired on June 30 after an attempt to reauthorize it failed.  Another attempt in July met the same fate.   The Bank currently cannot make new loans, only administer those already in force.

McCarthy Withdraws from Speaker Race, Path Forward Uncertain

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Oct-2015 (Updated: 08-Oct-2015 03:55 PM)

In a stunning development today, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) pulled out of the race to replace John Boehner (R-OH) as Speaker of the House.  McCarthy was the favorite to win, but ran into opposition from the far right wing of his party.  The House Republican Conference was supposed to choose its candidate for Speaker today, but that has been indefinitely postponed.  What will happen next is unclear.

McCarthy is currently the House Majority Leader, second only to Boehner in rank.  In announcing his withdrawal from the Speaker race, he said he would retain his current position.

Boehner and McCarthy both are conservatives, but not as conservative as the Tea Party.   McCarthy needed 200 votes from his Republican colleagues to move forward as the party's candidate for Speaker and it appeared that he easily had that many.   But he did not have the magic number of 218 -- the votes needed to secure the Speakership when the full House votes.   Tea Party Republicans in the House Freedom Caucus threw their collective strength behind another candidate, Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL), making it very difficult to get 218 supporters.

In a brief press conference after he announced his decision, McCarthy said the Republican party needs to be unified and the new Speaker needs not just the 218 votes to win the election in the House, but all 247 Republican votes.  "To unite, we probably need a fresh face," he said, a nod to critics in the far right wing of the party who claimed he would continue Boehner's legacy.  Those critics contend that Boehner does not fight hard enough for Tea Party causes like repealing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) or defunding Planned Parenthood and believe that government shutdowns are a valid and useful political tool.  Repeated clashes with those critics, including over the recent Continuing Resolution (CR) that is funding the government through December 11, are credited as leading Boehner to abruptly announce his resignation last month, though Boehner insists that he was planning to step down anyway on his birthday in November.

In a statement today, Boehner said he would not leave until a new Speaker is in place.  He had been planning to leave on October 30.  The leadership election will take place "at a later date, and I'm confident we will elect a new Speaker in the coming weeks," he said.

While McCarthy is generally well-liked by his colleagues, recent comments got him into trouble.   For example, during a television interview he used the House committee investigating the 2012 Benghazi, Libya incident as an example of effective Republican leadership that caused Hillary Clinton's poll numbers to drop.   The comments severely undercut Republican contentions that the committee is not politically motivated.  Four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, died in the attack on an American diplomatic compound in that city.  During his press conference today, McCarthy agreed that he could have phrased his comments better and the only reason the committee exists is to "find the truth" for the families of the victims:  "I should not be a distraction from that."

What all this means for conducting the nation's business is not comforting.  Congress must pass a Highway Trust Fund reauthorization by October 29, raise the debt limit by November 5, and pass another bill to keep the government operating after December 11.   Boehner, President Obama, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) also recently pledged to work together on a high-level budget deal that hopefully would avoid any chance of a government shutdown between now and the 2016 elections.  All three oppose using government shutdowns as political tools.  Today's developments make the outcome of all of those issues even more murky.

Commercial space advocates were looking forward to the possibility of a McCarthy Speakership since he represents the district in California where Edwards Air Force Base and the Mojave Air & Space Port are located.  He is the chief sponsor of H.R. 2262, the Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship (SPACE) Act, which passed the House in May.

Webster and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) are the only other two announced candidates for Speaker at the moment, but everything clearly is in flux right now.

Events of Interest

Full calendar of future events (with filters)-click here »


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