Space Station Authorization Bill Heads to House Science Committee

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Publication date: 
9 June 1995
Number: 
77

In what House space subcommittee chair James Sensenbrenner (R-WI)
called "an extremely healthy sign" for the space station, the
subcommittee on Wednesday voted down, by 18-3, an amendment to
cancel the program.  The amendment was offered during the mark-up
of H.R. 1601, a multi-year authorization bill for the program.  The
bill (if it makes its way through the rest of the legislative
process) would authorize the space station program through
completion of its assembly.  Authorizing legislation, while
providing congressional approval and spending ceilings for a
project, does not provide the actual funding.  That is done through
the appropriations process.

The bill would authorize a total of $13.141 billion for completion
of the station, with the limitation that the program not exceed
$2.121 billion in any one fiscal year.  While several subcommittee
Democrats expressed reservations that the multi-year authorization
would eliminate congressional oversight, Sensenbrenner made it
clear that the bill mandated strict reporting requirements and
NASA's staying on time and on budget.

While this is only the first phase in the authorization process
(or, as more than one subcommittee member noted, "one small step,")
Sensenbrenner said that it sends a signal of support for the
station, both to the appropriators and to the project's
international partners.  The bill now goes to the full House
Science Committee, then to the House floor. It would then need to
be reconciled with a Senate-passed version, but the Senate often
does not draft authorizing legislation.  Stating that the space
station would not "stand or fall depending on whether this bill
gets to the President's desk," Sensenbrenner seemed content at
getting his subcommittee's support for the project on record.

However, among some Democrats, that support was qualified. George
Brown (D-CA), former chair of the full House science committee, has
always been a supporter of the space station, but not at the
expense of the rest of NASA's programs.  As in previous years, he
raised concerns that NASA's shrinking budget might force the agency
to sacrifice other major programs.  Brown noted that NASA's draft
response to H.R. 1601 was support for the multi-year space station
authorization "within the context of" an overall stable, balanced
multi-year NASA budget.  He warned that he might not support the
bill in full committee if it was not amended to protect the balance
of NASA's programs. 

The defeated vote to cancel the station was offered by Rep. Tim
Roemer (D-IN), a station foe who has unsuccessfully tried such
amendments in past years.  Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) succeeded in
getting an amendment passed stating that the station "represents an
important component of an adequately funded civil space program
which balances human space flight with science, aeronautics, and
technology."  With Brown's support, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX)
tried to insert an amendment specifying that if NASA's total budget
dropped below $14 billion annually, the station program would not
be funded.  Sensenbrenner and others argued that even the
President's projected budgets for FY 1997 and beyond show NASA
receiving below $14 billion.  The amendment was defeated, but Brown
and Jackson Lee hope to try a similar amendment in the full
committee.  No date has yet been set for the full committee
mark-up.

Even though the station has a long way to go in the authorization
and appropriations processes, so far things look promising.
Although avid budget hawks will most likely try to kill it in floor
votes, it is of note that the House Budget Resolution provides full
funding for the station's completion.  House Speaker Newt Gingrich
(R-GA) is a station fan, as are House Budget Committee Chair John
Kasich (R-OH) and Vice Chair Robert Walker (R-PA).  Walker also
chairs the House Science Committee.

While the chair of the station's authorizing committee in the
Senate, Larry Pressler (R-SD), has expressed second thoughts about
his support, the VA/HUD appropriations subcommittee chairs in both
the House and Senate are space station advocates.  Mark-up of the
House VA/HUD appropriations bill will occur on June 22.  The full
House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to mark-up the bill on
July 11, and it will go to the House floor on July 19.  The Senate
mark-ups will then follow.