Frank Morring of AviationWeek & Space Technology has an article, Election Adds To Space Policy Uncertainty that discusses some of the changes in the House leadership and the possible outcomes of those changes in budgetary and policy terms. The bad news for NASA current leadership is that Rep. Ralph Hall will run the House Science & Technology Committee, Rep. Pete Olsen will head the House Space & Aeronautics Subcommittee, and Rep. Frank Wolf will run the House Appropriations Subcommittee responsible for NASA. None of these individuals are anything other than ardent opponents of the President’s proposed human space flight policy and highly critical of those at NASA who have tried to implement that policy despite legislation indicating otherwise. Nor were these Congressmen, nor many others, fans of the 2010 NASA Authorization Act. Yet, one leaves Morring’s article with the impression that NASA is looking at budget cuts under the new Congress.
But according to Lee Roop of the Huntsville Times in NASA Could Be In Budget Limbo For Month’s After Tuesday’s Election, the budget picture is quite different. “Republicans have already taken on the president’s space policy and beat him,” Huntsville attorney Mark McDaniel, a former NASA Advisory Council member who has advised congressional leaders on space policy, said of bipartisan opposition this year to Obama’s plan. “The space policy we have now is a Republican-driven policy.” Former North Alabama Congressman now lobbyist, consultant, and head of Huntsville’s “Second To None Initiative” Bud Cramer makes it clear that it is very unlikely that NASA’s 2011 budget will make it out of the lame duck Congress, leaving that work for the next Congress.
It also seems that Congressional opponents will be keeping a very close eye on what NASA headquarters does to keep Constellation funded, as required by the 2010 Omnibus language. As noted in Roop’s article, in the fourth quarter, NASA HQ put the squeeze on Constellation in anticipation of implementing the President’s proposed changes to human space flight, resulting in thousands of lay-off’s. In the end, the President’s human space flight changes were not adopted. And with the new Congressional leadership, there could even be a roll-back of some of the programs contained in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act that were a compromise of the President’s NASA Budget proposal. As Roop reports, “The centers need stability in their work forces,” Cramer said. “I think NASA will work with the centers and not contradict what Congress has said.” We hope so too, though NASA HQ’s past record is one of disregarding what Congress has said.
One thing is certain–Democratic Congressional representatives who survived last Tuesday are focused on keeping their jobs in 2012, not working to pass the President’s agenda. In the Senate, the President will find a more chilly reception simply because those Democrats up for re-election in 2012 just saw their colleagues, their own Majority Leader no less, go through the fight of their lives. As for the Republicans in either house, the easiest vote is one against a policy the President has outlined that puts America’s leadership in human space flight at risk.