Congress, White House Get Down to Bargaining on NASA Budget

Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center

The Houston Chronicle reports that the White House and Congress are beginning to get down the hard business of negotiations on NASA’s new budget:

The political potshots have subsided and the serious horse-trading lies ahead as the White House and Congress grind toward a compromise to salvage parts of the NASA moon program crucial to Houston’s Johnson Space Center. The legislative end-game is up in the air, as is any clear date to declare success or defeat. But the mood surrounding the space program in the nation’s capital has shifted from seizing partisan advantage to pursuing at least some political pragmatism….

“What’s changed is that lawmakers without a direct constituent stake in the space program now want a deal with the White House,” says space program historian John Logsdon, former head of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University. “Everyone recognizes that it’s untenable to have a schizoid situation where the White House wants to kill the moon program and Congress wants to save it. They’re searching for common ground.”

Reps. Gene Green, D-Houston, and John Culberson, R-Houston, are helping to orchestrate the effort by 33 House members from eight states urging Obama to abandon cancellation of the back-to-the-moon program.

Lawmakers’ conciliatory approach contrasts with catcall rhetoric initially unleashed by disappointed space-state Republicans who accused Obama of imperiling national security and control of the high ground in space. The shuttle fleet is expected to retire this year, leaving NASA to rely on Russians to ferry astronauts into orbit.

Meanwhile, a federal task force focused on provide aid to jobless aerospace workers in Florida met again in Washington:

Top administration officials met at the White House on Tuesday as part of a months-long effort to save the Space Coast economy, which expected to crater once NASA flies it final space shuttle mission this year from Cape Canaveral.

No decisions were made, but NASA chief Charlie Bolden and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said they were in the process in trying to decide how to spend $40 million in federal dollars to help thousands of Kennedy Space Center workers set to lose their jobs after the shuttle’s retirement.

The Obama Administration has been lavishing attention and funding on Florida – a key electoral battleground state – while providing almost no funds to Texas, which votes heavily Republican and whose elected officials have vehemently opposed the President’s plan . Federal aid for laid off workers in the Houston area is certainly a bargaining chip in the negotiations. It will be interesting to see if a large chunk of money becomes available for Texas as part of a deal.

The Administration initially canceled NASA’s Orion spacecraft, a decision that would have greatly affected employment in Colorado, where lead contractor Lockheed Martin is located. The Administration then reinstated Orion as a scaled-down lifeboat, which made the Colorado Congressional delegation happy even though NASA will spend less money on the project.