WASHINGTON — A 2013 spending bill that would fund NASA’s commercial crew program below the level the president requested drew a veto threat May 7 as the U.S. House of Representatives was preparing to begin debate on the proposal.

The $51 billion Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Act for 2013 (H.R. 5326) that the Republican-led House began debating May 8 would fund NASA at $17.57 billion next year — the lowest level since 2008 and some $150 million less than President Barack Obama requested for the agency.

NASA’s commercial crew program — a two-year-old effort that aims to foster development by 2017 of at least two privately operated launchers capable of transporting crews to the international space station — would receive $500 million next year under the House spending measure, which is $330 million below the White House request. The House bill would also direct NASA to immediately narrow the field of commercial crew competitors, either by picking a single provider now or adopting a so-called leader-follower strategy where the bulk of the money goes to one company.

In a Statement of Administration Policy issued May 7, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) cited the below-request funding for NASA’s commercial crew program among the reasons Obama would be likely to veto H.R. 5326 if it reaches his desk as is.

“The Administration strongly opposes the level of funding provided for the commercial crew program, which is $330 million below the [fiscal year] 2013 Budget request, as well as restrictive report language that would eliminate competition in the program,” OMB wrote. “This would increase the time the United States will be required to rely solely on foreign providers to transport American astronauts to and from the space station.

“While the Administration appreciates the overall funding level provided to NASA, the bill provides some NASA programs with unnecessary increases at the expense of other important initiatives,” the NASA portion of the statement concludes.

Although OMB does not cite any specific examples besides commercial crew, the House bill rejects Obama’s proposal to cut NASA’s $1.5 billion planetary science portfolio by 20 percent and provides more money than the president requested for the Mars Next Decade planning effort and the Discovery and New Frontiers line of competitively selected space science missions.

The Senate, meanwhile, has yet to schedule floor debate for its version of the Commerce, Justice Science bill that Senate appropriator’s approved April 19.

The Senate bill would provide $525 million for commercial crew but give NASA free rein to manage the program as it sees fit.



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Dan Leone is a SpaceNews staff writer, covering NASA, NOAA and a growing number of entrepreneurial space companies. He earned a bachelor’s degree in public communications from the American University in Washington.