WASHINGTON — The U.S. Congress has less than a month of legislative working days scheduled before the federal government’s new budget year begins Oct. 1, and the House and Senate still have more than $1.4 billion worth of differences to settle, when it comes to NASA.
The two chambers’ efforts to craft NASA’s 2014 budget are almost moving in lockstep. The House Appropriations Committee on July 17 approved a $47.4 billion commerce, justice, science spending bill that included $16.6 billion for NASA — 6.3 percent below what the White House requested for the agency, and 6.6 percent below 2012. The bill, which assumes across-the-board sequestration cuts will continue at least through 2014, has not been scheduled for a floor vote.
Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations commerce, justice, science subcommittee has approved $18 billion for NASA for 2014 as part of a $52.3 billion bill the full committee is set to take up July 18. The Senate legislation ignores sequestration, which in 2013 left NASA with a $16.9 billion top line — about a 5 percent cut, compared with 2012.
If the Senate Appropriations Committee approves the bill before it on July 18, the upper chamber– which begins a four-week recess Aug. 5 and rarely holds votes on Mondays and Fridays — would have 26 legislative work days to pass the dozen spending bills that set the government’s 2014 budget. Money provided by the current appropriations law, The Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013 (H.R. 933), runs out Oct. 1.
The House, meanwhile, has just 18 legislative sessions scheduled between July 19 and Oct. 1, according to the schedule posted on majority leader Rep. Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) website.
As of July 17, the full House had passed three of its 12 spending bills. Another four had cleared the House Appropriations Committee and were awaiting floor votes. In the Senate, meanwhile, six of 12 spending bills were ready to move to the floor. If Congress cannot clear its plate before Oct. 1, lawmakers could be forced to pass another temporary spending measure, known as a continuing resolution, that likely would freeze appropriations at the 2013 level.
“I’d be shocked if we don’t get a continuing resolution, starting Oct. 1, for some length of time,” Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, told the Outer Planets Assessment Group during its July 15 meeting in Arlington, Va.
Meanwhile, NASA broke from its usual policy of not commenting publicly on pending legislation in a July 17 blog by David Weaver, NASA associate administrator for communications.
“We are deeply concerned that the bill under consideration would set our funding level significantly below the President’s request,” Weaver wrote in the blog. “This proposal would challenge America’s preeminence in space exploration, technology, innovation, and scientific discovery.”
Weaver said NASA was especially concerned that the House bill slashed funding for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, which is dedicated to getting new and untested technologies ready for use in the agency’s space missions.
Relative to the White House’s request, Space Technology took the one of the biggest hits in the bill just approved by the House Appropriations Committee. The administration asked for $742.6 million, and the Committee approved $573.7 million.