The U.S. House recessed Sept. 24 without taking up a three-year NASA authorization bill, dimming prospects for passage of the nearly $50 billion measure before midterm elections Nov. 2.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said votes on all bills were postponed until Sept. 29, when the chamber hopes to take up a stopgap spending measure, known as a continuing resolution, to keep the government running at present spending levels past Sept. 30, when the current fiscal year ends.
“I was hopeful that we would be able to reach an agreement with the Senate on a continuing resolution so that the House could act on it tomorrow, but while negotiations are progressing they are not complete,” Hoyer said in a Sept. 23 statement. “We will be back next week to complete action on it.”
Hours before Hoyer made his announcement, House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) introduced a revised version of the NASA authorization bill his committee originally approved in July. Gordon characterized the revamped measure as a “compromise” negotiated over months in an effort that brings the legislation closer to a companion bill approved by the full Senate Aug. 5.
“As a result, we believe we have a bill that both builds on and improves on H.R. 5781, the NASA Authorization Act that was marked up by the Science and Technology Committee earlier this year,” Gordon said in a Sept. 23 statement. “Moreover, we believe this compromise helps move the discussion about the future of NASA closer to a final product.”
Gordon’s substitute measure calls for increasing spending on commercial crew and cargo vehicles to $1.2 billion over three years. That figure is still $400 million shy of the Senate’s $1.6 billion recommendation for commercial crew and cargo initiatives, but represents a sizeable increase over the original $464 million through 2013 recommended in H.R. 5781.
Commercial space advocates said despite the recommended funding boost, Gordon’s compromise calls for numerous restrictions on private space taxi development. The Space Frontier Foundation said the bill has “numerous landmines,” including 24 separate restrictions on the development of commercial crew, which the group says is three times as many as contained in the Senate measure.
In a media alert issued Sept. 23, the Space Access Society said Gordon’s bill places “a whole tangle of reviews, reports, certifications, and other requirements on Commercial Crew, the general effect of which cannot be other than to discourage such efforts.”
Both organizations took issue with language in the House compromise that could allow NASA to continue development of the Ares 1 rocket and Orion crew capsule U.S. President Barack Obama seeks to abandon. They urged Congress to support the Senate version of the NASA bill, which they see as a compromise between Obama’s proposed new direction for the agency and the House panel’s revised H.R. 5781.
Even if Congress passes a NASA authorization bill this year, appropriations legislation is needed to fund the agency for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. Lawmakers are not expected to take up that legislation until they return for a lame-duck session after the elections.