Congress approved the
president’s Vision for Space Exploration, which included a renewed commitment to the manned space program, returning to the
Moon by 2020, and possibly on to Mars thereafter. The key component to making this plan affordable was retiring the aging space shuttle and replacing it with a new, safer
and less-expensive-to-operate system – the manned Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle
launched on the Ares crew launch vehicle
called the Constellation Program
, is historic in that it is the first new U.S. manned space rocket program in decades. The vote to authorize it in 2004 enjoyed strong bipartisan support. However, since gaining the majority, the Democrats have been sending a multitude of signals that do not portend well for the health of this program and our manned space program in general. These changes are not a bipartisan failure, but seem to be a clear agenda of the leaders of the new majority.
It started with their
2007 funding level, which cut some $577 million
from the president’s request for NASA’s Exploration
account. Anyone with any familiarity with complex procurement programs can tell you that early cuts of this magnitude to a program like this add huge costs and significant schedule delays in the out years. Is NASA being set up for criticism five years from now when this program is behind schedule and over budget and we have added years to our dependence on the Russians for carrying Americans in to space?
At the time the 2007 cuts were announced by the new Democratic majority, we heard from some key NASA-friendly Democrats that they would restore the funding in the 2007 supplemental
in a bi
partisan fashion. Our own House NASA Action Team – a collection of Democrats and Republicans working on behalf of NASA interests – set out to correct this funding cut. Yet, over the past eight weeks, four supplementals have come before the Congress – H.R. 1591, S. 965, H.R. 2006
and H.R. 2007. None of these bills had the $577 million cut restored.
I believe in results, not rhetoric. In past years, when the budgets under former President Bill Clinton
were put forward that repeatedly cut NASA
, I worked with Republicans and Democrats to successfully restore much of those suggested cuts. And I am certainly willing to accept blame when Republicans share the blame for NASA’s woes.
However, for Space News to suggest that somehow Republicans are to bear part of the blame for the
2007 cuts is simply unfounded. The House approved the
2007 NASA appropriations bill, providing most of the budget increase requested for the Orion program. Partisan politics in the Senate kept the NASA funding bill off the floor last year, even though Senate appropriators had largely followed the House plan. Then in January,
a handful of Democratic leaders
slashed the Orion budget request
at the last minute, undoing the bipartisan work-product of appropriators last year.
Deeply concerned about the future of the manned space program, I have, on three occasions this year introduced amendments to protect NASA’s exploration budget. Most recently, I offered an amendment that would have, among other things, prevented Congress from increasing the National Science Foundation budget at the expense of NASA. Since both programs draw from the same pot of funding, this was a reasonable proposal and germane to the bill under consideration at that time.
But the Democratic leadership denied me the opportunity to have this amendment considered. Among the reasons cited included the basic question of whether a manned space program is even needed. Forgive me for sounding “
” as a recent editorial from this paper characterized me [“Rep. Weldon’s Harsh Rhetoric Will Not Help NASA,” May 14, page 18], but I refuse to acquiesce to the slow strangling of human space
To their credit, some lawmakers who voted for the recent $577 million cut to the NASA space exploration account now are
calling for a summit with the
administration to discuss NASA shortfalls. I support any and all efforts to work with Republicans and Democrats to ensure NASA’s funding needs are adequately addressed. But it can’t be an empty gesture. The summit will have failed if it doesn’t in the end convince the new
leadership that this cut went too far and was unwise.
We are just a few weeks from seeing the 2008
appropriation for NASA from the Democratic leaders. Will it be at the
president’s level for the shuttle replacement funding or will it also fall short? If the 20
08 number again falls significantly below the
president’s request, should we expect more reductions in 20
09 and beyond?
And what will be the long-term consequences? My constituents are passionate in their support for our manned program, and they deserve a passionate effort from me to defend the program. As their representative, I intend to support NASA when it counts most – in Congress, on tough votes. And I’ll call on my colleagues to do the same, loudly and clearly.
Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fla.) is on the House Appropriations Committee. The district he represents is home to many NASA Kennedy Space Center employees.