The budget squeeze tightens

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) told the Huntsville Times this week that some hard decisions are coming for federal spending, including cuts in defense spending. “I think national defense is probably going to lose some ground,” he told the paper’s editorial board, although he wasn’t sure how it would affect agencies and companies in Huntsville. One area he does plan to support additional funding, though, is NASA’s human spaceflight programs: “I hope to increase (NASA) spending for manned spaceflight,” he said. And where would that money come from? He says he’ll look to shift funding from other parts of the agency, “such as studies of global warming”; he also said that “we might have to shift money” from the National Science Foundation to support human spaceflight.

One thing to keep in mind regarding his comments is that Brooks, in addition to being a freshman with little individual influence, is also not on the House Appropriations Committee. Thus, his comments are more likely a wish list than a concrete plan. And plans by House appropriators will make keeping NASA funding intact even harder.

On Thursday the new chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Hal Rogers (R-KY), released his spending plan for FY 2011 appropriations bills, as Congress seeks to take care of unfinished business from the previous Congress. Rogers outlined $74 billion in cuts from the president’s FY11 request, $58 billion of which in non-defense discretionary spending, in his budget outlines distributed to the various appropriations subcommittees. “I am instructing each of the twelve Appropriations subcommittees to produce specific, substantive and comprehensive spending cuts,” Rogers said in the statement. “We are going go line by line to weed out and eliminate unnecessary, wasteful, or excess spending.”

For the Commerce, Justice, and Science subcommittee, which includes NASA, Rogers set a budget of $54.1 billion, an 11-percent cut from the $60.5 billion from the president’s FY11 request a year ago. If applied across the board for all agencies, that would mean NASA would get $16.9 billion in 2011, down from the $19 billion in its FY11 request and below even its appropriations in FY2008, the goal that House leaders set for reducing overall non-defense discretionary spending. However, those cuts may not be applied equally, sparing some programs and agencies while inflicting deeper cuts on others.

An AP article yesterday does suggest that NASA might be spared the worst of the cuts, claiming that unidentified Republicans said that “some agencies such as the FBI, the Indian Health Service and NASA are unlikely to be cut all the way back to pre-Obama levels.” (The article repeats statements from an earlier AP piece that the White House warns that NASA cuts could force the US to abandon the ISS.) Any cuts the House makes, of course, would have to be reconciled with the Senate, which has not released its budget plans yet.


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