Senate Commerce Committee Clears 2013 NASA Authorization Bill
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee cleared its version of the 2013 NASA Authorization bill today on a party-line vote. Several non-controversial Democratic amendments were adopted by voice vote. One Republican amendment was defeated on a party-line recorded vote.
A substitute version of the bill (S. 1317) introduced by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) was adopted, along with three amendments by Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) (Warner 1, Warner 2, Warner 3) and one by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM).
A Republican amendment introduced by Senators Ted Cruz (TX), Marco Rubio (FL) and Roger Wicker (MS), however, sparked intense debate. Committee Republicans complained that the $18.1 billion authorized in the bill ignores budget caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA), which created the sequester. Committee Democrats, led by Nelson, who chairs the Science and Space subcommittee, insisted that the BCA does not govern authorizations, only appropriations. The debate pitted Nelson against fellow Floridian Rubio. Both said it was disappointing that it came down to a partisan vote considering that both support NASA, but each held firm to their fiscal positions. The Cruz-Rubio-Wicker amendment would have required the level of funding in the bill to conform with the BCA and was defeated on a party-line vote.
The bill then passed the committee, also on a party-line vote, after a startling moment when committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) inadvertently voted against it. He quickly realized his mistake and changed his vote.
The debate and voting in the Senate committee today mirrored action in the House Science, Space and Technology Committee when it approved its version of the bill (H.R. 2687) two weeks ago. Nelson downplayed the differences between the House and Senate bills, saying that apart from the funding amounts, the only major disagreement is that the House bill prohibits funding for NASA's proposed asteroid redirect mission (ARM) while the Senate bill is silent on it. Nelson said he believes NASA's scientists and engineers, not Congress, should decide what missions are needed to achieve the goals set forth in legislation.
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