Moran: two shots to increase NASA funding this year

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COLORADO SPRINGS — A key senator said he will work to fund NASA priorities like its Artemis lunar exploration program through both the conventional appropriations process as well as a multi trillion-dollar budget reconciliation package.

In a speech at the 36th Space Symposium here Aug. 24, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), ranking member of the commerce, justice and science (CJS) appropriations subcommittee, said the ongoing efforts to pass a budget reconciliation package along with a separate infrastructure bill will alter the conventional annual appropriations approach.

The challenge, he said, is that the budget reconciliation package will be handled by authorizing committees rather than appropriations committees. That means a role for the Senate Commerce Committee for any NASA funding included in that package, such as requests that NASA Administrator Bill Nelson has made for the Human Landing System and infrastructure improvements at NASA centers that total more than $10 billion.

Moran noted, though, that he serves on the Commerce Committee, and thus could influence any funding requests for NASA. “As an appropriator and as an authorizer under reconciliation, I will have two shots at helping us achieve our goals.”

In an interview after his speech, Moran said exactly how the Commerce Committee will shape the reconciliation package is still being worked out. “We’re in new territory,” he said. Both he and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), ranking member of the Commerce Committee, have asked Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), chair of the committee, to use “a committee process” to provide input on the bill.

While the reconciliation package is being developed, Moran and other appropriators are working on their fiscal year 2022 spending bills. He said in his speech that he expects the CJS subcommittee to mark up its version of a bill in late September.

He offered no estimates on how much Senate appropriators will allocate for NASA. A House version of the fiscal year 2022 CJS spending bill included $25.04 billion for NASA, nearly $240 million above the administration’s proposal.

Moran said in the interview that Senate appropriators are still waiting for allocations for each subcommittee. Once those allocations are finalized, appropriators will be able to determine specific funding amounts for NASA and other agencies included in the CJS bill.

“NASA will be a priority, but we cannot put numbers to it until we know what our allocation is,” he said.

The CJS bill will follow the practice of past years of being developed in a bipartisan manner, Moran said, working in cooperation with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), chair of the subcommittee. “I assure you that the overarching goal of a balanced space program that advances Artemis as well as science, aeronautics and STEM education will be the same,” he said.

Moran was optimistic, at least in general terms, that Congress will be willing to increase funding for the agency, citing competition from China in space exploration. “I expect Congress will be very sympathetic,” he predicted. “In fact, I would say that Congress will be supportive of additional dollars for space and national defense because of adversaries like China.”

Moran spoke at the conference immediately after Nelson, who only briefly touched on challenges like the ongoing HLS lawsuit and delays in development of spacesuits needed for Artemis, both of which threaten the goal of returning humans to the surface of the moon by 2024. The pandemic, Nelson added, “has caused unprecedented disruptions in the supply chain.”

He then recalled the line from President Kennedy’s 1962 speech where he said we choose to go to the moon and do other things “not because they are easy but because they are hard.”

“We can do hard things,” Nelson said. “We are a can-do people.”