Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), chair of the appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA, said April 20 that his committee will produce fiscal year 2023 spending bills "on time" but offered few hints about what support NASA will get. Credit: SpaceNews/Jeff Foust

PITTSBURGH — The chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA says he expects his committee to develop spending bills “on time” this year but was noncommittal about the level of support NASA will receive.

Speaking at an April 20 event here where Astrobotic unveiled its Peregrine lunar lander, Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), who chairs the commerce, justice and science (CJS) subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, said he would work in a bipartisan manner to develop a fiscal year 2023 spending bill but offered few hints about what might be included for NASA in the bill.

“We’ll be making the hard choices but, you know, what we do on the appropriations committee is a product of compromise between Democrats and Republicans, between the House and the Senate,” he said. “We succeeded last year. We’ll succeed again in FY ’23.”

The White House released a fiscal year 2023 budget proposal March 28 that requested nearly $26 billion for NASA, an 8% increase from what the agency received in fiscal year 2022. Neither the House nor the Senate have started formal work on appropriations bills.

Cartwright, asked about the budget proposal, brought up a line he attributed to a former member of Congress, Charlie Dent: “The president proposes and the appropriations committee disposes.”

That process of disposing will go on schedule, he said. “We intend to do it on time,” he said of developing a CJS spending bill. “We intend to mark it up on time and report the bill on time.”

He didn’t give a specific schedule for developing the spending bill. Last year, the CJS subcommittee held a hearing on the NASA budget in May, and the full appropriations committee reported the bill in July.

However, Congress did not pass an omnibus spending bill for fiscal year 2022 until mid-March after a series of continuing resolutions that funded NASA and other government agencies at 2021 levels. “As delayed as it was, it still succeeded,” Cartwright said.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, also at the Astrobotic event, endorsed Cartwright’s work, citing bipartisan cooperation with the CJS subcommittee’s ranking member, Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) “They work together. You don’t see a lot of this,” Nelson said. “It’s exactly as Matt said, in certain areas, you get bipartisan compromise and working together.”

That 2022 spending bill was the first developed with Cartwright as chairman of the CJS subcommittee. He succeeded Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.), who retired after the 2020 elections.

“As a result of that, I have learned a lot of about space and NASA and science in a big hurry,” he said. “It’s about $25 billion a year that America pours into our space program and absolutely appropriately, because this is what inspires young minds in this country to go on and figure out scientific and technological advancements things that lead to real wealth creation in this country.”

“I’m proud to be a buff of the space program and I’m proud to be a part of helping fund it,” he added.

Cartwright offered a similar message earlier in the day in a speech at the inaugural conference of the Keystone Space Collaborative, a regional space industry group. “People say, ‘How can you spend $25 billion a year on NASA when there are so many other pressing needs?’” he said. “And I say, how can we not?”

He then moderated a panel discussion with NASA officials where he hinted at one area of interest to him, addressing orbital debris. “We have a good grasp of the enormity of the problem,” he said. “I can tell you, we’re ready, willing and able to fund research into the answers as soon as NASA asks for that money.”

NASA’s fiscal year 2023 budget proposal does include more than $30 million for research and technology development associated with orbital debris risks.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...