This really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. As reported by Nature News’ Adam Mann in US midterm elections: Policy row launches NASA into limbo, the mid-term elections could have a substantive impact on when NASA gets its funding from Congress.
NASA is currently being funded by a continuing resolution, or “CR” in Washingtonese. That means current funding for NASA is a mirror of what it received in 2010. After passage of NASA’s authorization bill, the conventional wisdom was that once Congress returned from the mid-term election, the House and Senate Appropriations Committee would vote out NASA’s budget for the fiscal year 2011, which began on October 1st of this year. While the signing by the President of NASA’s authorization bill is important, it is the appropriations to NASA that, in the end, determine what NASA will and will not do.
Now there seems to be a recognition that the mid-term elections could impact the Administration’s proposed changes to NASA, contained in the White House’s fiscal year 2011 NASA Budget. As the article states,
If the Democrats retain control of the Senate and House of Representatives, they will probably quickly pass an appropriations bill to allocate the money, says John Logsdon, former director of the Space Policy Institute at the George Washington University in Washington DC. But if the Republicans prevail, they may defer negotiations until January, when they would take over the appropriations subcommittee.
It is doubtful that the mid-term elections will tug NASA in many different directions since a change in Congressional leadership will likely not impact the strong and wide-spread bipartisanship characteristic of the current Congressional opposition to the White House’s proposed changes to the nation’s human space flight program.
There may be some impact on funding priorities. Certainly, members of the House Appropriations Committee such as Rep. Jerry Lewis, who is currently the Ranking Member, and Rep. Frank Wolf, the Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Science, Justice & Related Agencies will want any appropriations bill to reflect to some degree the mandate of the mid-term election. The Administration could count on the House appropriations bill for NASA to more strongly reflect the House Committee on Science & Technology and less on the final authorization bill for NASA that arose from the Senate.
The real impact of a change of the guard in the House will be investigative.
It is no secret that most members of Congress on the House Science & Technology Committee have been strong critics of the Administration’s plans for NASA and those who created them. While the Committee Chairman Bart Gordon tried to get to the bottom of who created the White House NASA plan, time ran out. With the new Congress in January and the House Science & Technology Committee led by Rep. Hall and the Science & Technology Space Subcommittee led by Rep. Olson, one can count as certain that over the next two years, the House Science & Technology Committee will investigate exhaustively who knew what when about the Administration’s proposal to outsource the nation’s human space flight activities.