Saturday, June 20, 2009

Mollohan's cuts passed by the House

Full House votes to keep $700 million cut in NASA funding

President Harry S Truman said of Washington, "if you want a friend in this town, buy a dog."

His predecessor, Franklin Roosevelt said of Washington, "never make the mistake of thinking anything here happens by accident.

Which make poignant the fact while NASA at large was distracted by the logistical and mechanical concerns of launching Endeavour, and STS-127, not long after Trans Lunar Injection for LRO & LCROSS, even as the agency was celebrating "America's return to the Moon", the U.S. House voted 259-157 to cut $700 million from its budget, over the objections of President Obama.

That plan now heads to the Senate. All U.S. spending plans must begin in the House, where the U.S. Constitution seats "the power of the purse." The House has this singular privilege because, Thomas Jefferson wrote, it is the body closest to the People, its entire membership must be elected every two years.

Mark Matthews of the Orlando Sentinel's The Write Stuff, wrote, "NASA still would receive about $18.2 billion under the proposal, but the lawmaker who oversees NASA spending wanted to cut about $670 million from an earlier request by the White House for the agency's exploration budget until a new independent panel -- asked for by the Obama administration -- concludes its review of NASA’s post-shuttle plans.

“It is a pause, a time-out, to allow the president to establish his vision for human space exploration and to commit to realistic future funding levels to realize this vision,” according to an earlier memo written by U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan, the West Virginia Democrat who chairs the appropriations subcommittee of Commerce, Justice and Science.

The White House opposed the House action in a memo earlier this week. (pdf)

“The Administration is concerned with the reduction of $670 million from the President's FY 2010 request for Exploration Systems. This large reduction would likely cause major negative impacts to any options that may emerge from the ongoing blue ribbon review of U.S. human space flight plans,” according to a memo released by the Office of Management and Budget, which reports to the president.

The NASA cuts were included as part of a much broader bill that outlined about $64 billion in congressional spending on the Department of Justice, NASA, NOAA and several other government agencies, according to budget documents released before the floor debate.

Among those who opposed the bill was U.S. Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, a Florida Democrat who represents the Kennedy Space Center.

“These cuts will cause years of delays and put at risk the highly skilled workforce that is critical to Central Florida’s economy and that may not be easily reassembled for future programs,” said Kosmas in a statement.

She was one of eight Democrats to oppose the proposal.

And, Matthews rightly points out, "Passage in the House, however, does not guarantee the cuts become law. NASA has several defenders in the Senate, including U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, (D-Florida), and even Mollohan left open the possibility of restoring funding once the Augustine panel presents its report.

At a Thursday today of the House subcommittee of Space and Aeronautics, U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, (R-Texas), said he had been assured by congressional leaders that the funding would be returned once the Augustine panel was done.

“They promised us that they would work to restore that funding, pending the decision of the Augustine commission,” he said.

The 2010 fiscal year begins October 1, which also marks the beginning of the last year former President Bush and President Obama agree will be the final one for the Space Shuttle system.

Retiring the Shuttle involves more than blocking the Orbiter wheels and setting tie downs, of course. It means the dissolution of a unified team skillset, what has already begun, and even environmental impact statements.

Meanwhile, writing in a guest column for Florida Today, Robert Hopkins, former chief of strategic communications at NASA, called H.R. 2847 a "shortsighted, reckless plan."

"Congressional appropriators are moving to dial back funding for our nation’s space program. Specifically, legislators have called for a “time out” in exploration, cutting funding by $670 million for fiscal year 2010.

"With the shuttle due to retire by 2010, for the first time in over 28 years, the U.S. will have no capability to transport humans into space. We will be reliant on the Russians to ferry our astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station until a replacement is completed.

"There are significant economic and international implications."

Read Hopkins Column HERE.

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