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Senate Appropriations CJS Subcommittee Approves Less than Requested for NASA-UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Jun-2015
Updated: 10-Jun-2015 06:11 PM

Updated with reaction from Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL).

The Senate Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee, led by two of NASA's strongest congressional supporters, approved a FY2016 CJS bill today with less funding than requested by the Obama Administration, albeit an increase compared to its current level.  Only a few details are available so far, but the total is $18.3 billion compared to the $18.529 billion requested.  NASA's current FY2015 funding level is $18.010 billion.

The CJS subcommittee is chaired by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) and the top Democrat is Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD).  Mikulski pointed out during subcommittee markup this morning that more money is needed overall.   Democrats argue that the spending caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) need to be revised or revoked.  Republicans are insisting that non-defense spending stay within those caps, while adding money to defense spending by placing it in an off-budget account (Overseas Contingency Operations) to which the caps do not apply.  President Obama and congressional Democrats rail against that "gimmick."  Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has said Democrats will not allow any of the appropriations bills to pass until Republicans agree to discuss a solution.  The President has vowed to veto any bills that abide by the BCA caps.

Shelby and Mikulski both are strong NASA supporters.  NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) is in Alabama and Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) is in Maryland.  Not surprisingly, Shelby is especially supportive of the Space Launch System (SLS) being built by MSFC and Mikulski of science programs at GSFC.   Both fare well in the CJS subcommittee-approved bill, although details of how the science funding is allocated were not released today.   The NASA earth science community is concerned at the cuts approved to those programs in the House-passed CJS bill.  

Mikulski is expected to introduce at least one amendment to add more money for NASA during full committee markup tomorrow (Thursday). Unless she has offsetting cuts to propose elsewhere in the CJS bill, however, getting agreement to any amendment adding money is a challenge because the subcommittee was allocated a fixed amount of money to spend pursuant to the FY2016 Budget Resolution.

Few details about the allocation of funds within the $18.3 billion total for NASA were released today.  The following is what is known publicly at the moment.  (See SpacePolicyOnline.com's fact sheet on NASA's FY2016 budget request for more information on current funding, the President's FY2016 request, and congressional action to date.)

  • SLS:  $1.9 billion.  The request was $1.357 billion.  The House bill states that it includes $2.313 billion for SLS, but that is a combination of $1.85 billion for development, $410 million for ground systems, and $53 million for a new category of spending it calls Program Integration.  Presumably the Senate subcommittee's $1.9 billion compares to the House's $1.85 billion for development.
  • Orion:  $1.2 billion.  The request was $1.096 billion.  The House approved the request.
  • Science:  $5.3 billion.  The request was $5.289 billion.  The House approved $5.238 billion.  The allocations for Earth Science, Planetary Science, Astrophysics, James Webb Space Telescope and Heliophysics were not provided by the Senate subcommittee today.  The House substantially increased Planetary Science and substantially decreased Earth Science, with a small addition to Astrophysics and small decrease for Heliophysics, to reach its net decrease of $50 million for this account.
  • Commercial Crew:  $900 million. The request was $1.244 billion.  The House approved $1.0 billion.  The Senate CJS subcommittee includes it as part of "International Space Station Crew and Cargo" in its description, although it is not part of NASA's budget request for that line item.  NASA's "commercial spaceflight" line item is under the Exploration portion of its budget.  "ISS Crew and Cargo" is part of the Space Operations portion and includes payments to Russia for Soyuz flights and payments to SpaceX and Orbital ATK for cargo flights.  NASA requested $1.605 billion for ISS Crew and Cargo.  The Senate subcommittee approved $2.5 billion, saying it is an increase of $170 million over FY2015 for comparable spending.  Until the detailed breakdown is available, it is difficult to state with certainty, but it appears it is moving commercial crew into the ISS Crew and Cargo line (operations rather than development) making it difficult to compare with prior years and this year's request.
  • Space Technology:  $600 million.  The request was $725 million.  The House approved $625 million. 

Full committee markup for this bill, the defense appropriations bill, as well as the legislative branch appropriations bill, begins tomorrow (June 11) at 10:30 am ET.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) voiced his objections to the $344 million cut to commercial crew on the Senate floor following the markup.  He said if the cut is sustained, it will delay the ability to launch American astronauts on American rockets two more years, which means paying Russia for two more years, costing at least as much.   "We need to wake up to what's happening," he implored, adding that Mikulski will offer an amendment tomorrow to restore the commercial crew funding and urging his fellow Senators to support it.


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