The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a $17.8 billion budget for NASA – close to the funding level recommended by House appropriators

– as part of a broader domestic spending bill, but

senior lawmakers believe the legislation has little chance of being enacted this year.

“The president has already said he will veto any bill that exceeds his request. That is his right. But such actions would be a mistake for the nation. There are consequences to failing to invest in America


Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) said at the start of a June 19 markup of two spending bills that together would exceed the White House request for the relevant activities by $6.2 billion.

Byrd said he is determined to press on despite the president’s standing veto threat and hopes to complete committee action on all remaining spending bills before the end of July even though most of official Washington already appears resigned to a continuing resolution that would keep most U.S. domestic federal spending at current levels for at least part of 2009.

That sentiment was apparent in comments Sen. Thad Cochran

of Mississippi, the Senate Appropriations Committee’s ranking Republican, made just before the committee made

short work of discussing and voting on two spending bills many expect will have to be reintroduced once a new president and Congress are sworn in next January.

“I hope we will be able to come together and defy expectations and somehow get the bills enacted into law this year,” Cochran said.

The NASA funding was included in the $58 billion Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Act for 2009, the larger of the two spending bills

unanimously approved by the committee June 19, clearing them for the next step in the legislative process, a floor vote no one really expects to happen before lawmakers adjourn ahead of the general

elections in November.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.),

chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations commerce, justice, science subcommittee, told a private audience earlier this spring that she expected it would be March – six months into the federal government’s new budget year – before 2009 budgets are enacted. She made no such predictions, however, when it came time for the committee to vote on her bill.

Mikulski said most of the

$4.2 billion in the

Commerce, Justice, Science bill that exceeds the president’s request would go to law enforcement programs. NASA, however, would still get nearly $200 million more than the White House

is seeking for 2009.

The $17.8 billion being recommended

for NASA is some $485 million above the agency’s current budget. However, NASA could receive an additional $62.3 million

this year if U.S. President George W. Bush signs into law the $162 billion emergency spending measure the House

passed June 19 to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan along with

miscellaneous domestic priorities.


had added $200 million for NASA to the emergency supplemental

before it left the Senate, but that sum was trimmed by the House. She

said NASA needs even more money

to accomplish everything being asked of it and

pledged to once again fight for an additional $1 billion for the space agency

later in the legislative process.

“There is simply too much pressure on NASA’s budget – now and in the future,” Mikulski said. “The only way to reduce the pressure on the budget, and maintain a balanced space program, is to increase our federal commitment to NASA and our national space program.”

Of the additional money for NASA sought in the Senate’s

Commerce, Justice, Science

bill, meanwhile, two-thirds

would go to science and aeronautics programs, with the balance divided among exploration, education and earmarks. House appropriators similarly favored science and aeronautics in

recommending an

additional $155 million

for NASA in their version of the Commerce, Justice, Science

spending bill that cleared subcommittee markup June 12. That bill is still awaiting

full committee markup.

Senate appropriators were relatively restrained in including earmarks in the

NASA portion of the bill

, devoting

$48 million to


research and education initiatives benefiting lawmakers’ home states.

NASA’s space shuttle and international space station programs were fully funded in the Senate bill at $3 billion and $2 billion, respectively. Likewise, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the full $2.9 billion NASA requested for the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle and its Ares 1 launcher, and also honored the agency’s $173 million request for the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program, which is funding two competing efforts to demonstrate vehicles

capable of delivering cargo to the space station.

Work on NASA’s proposed Ares 5 heavy-lift

launcher would be given a boost under the Senate bill, with


million included for an effort the agency says needs only $7 million next year.

Senate appropriators

added money for

a variety of science missions in development. Some

of these, such as the Glory climate-monitoring satellite and the 2009 Mars Science Laboratory rover, are by NASA’s own admission in need of significant additional funding to overcome technical challenges. The Senate bill provides an additional $17 million for Glory next year and an additional $77 million for the Mars Science Lab. Other projects in line for increases in excess of NASA’s budget request include: the James Webb Space Telescope,

$23 million

; the Global Precipitation Measurement Mission,

$64 million

; the Solar Probe,

$18 million

; and the Ra

diation Storm Belt Probes,

$10 million