The debate over the 2013 NASA Authorization bill in the Senate Commerce Committee resulted in a partisan clash between Space and Science Subcommittee Chairman Bill Nelson, a Democrat from Florida, and ranking member Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas. At issue was the level of funding against the background of the sequestration act, according to a July 31, 2013 post on the Space Politics blog.
Cruz, along with Sens. Roger Wicker R-MS, Marco Rubio R-FL, and Ron Johnson R-WI offered an amendment that would have reduced the amount of money authorized for NASA from around $18 billion to one that is compliant with the Budget Control Act that has imposed automatic sequestration.
“This authorization disregards the Budget Control Act,” Cruz said in introducing his amendment. “Proceeding with an authorization while pretending that the existing law is something other than what it is, is not the most effective way to protect the priority that space exploration and manned exploration should have.” If the higher amount of money is authorized for NASA, Cruz was concerned that the automatic sequestration would not allow for a rebalancing of NASA programs under the reduced spending level. In offering the amendment, Cruz resolved the conundrum of the need for smaller government over the desire for a more robust NASA in favor of the former, but only because of the demands of sequestration.
Nelson, however, disagreed. He claimed that the legislation does not, in fact, violate the act since it only applies to actual appropriations and not authorization of appropriations. Therefore the committee could authorize any amount of funding it liked.
The Cruz amendment was defeated on a party line vote, with Democrats voting against and Republicans for. Then the full authorization bill passed, also along party lines, with Republicans against and Democrats for.
A comparison of the Senate version of the bill with the House version was previously published in Space Politics. About half of the difference in funding, about $600 million, goes to Earth Science. The Senate bill does not prohibit the NASA asteroid mission as the House bill does. It in fact does not mention it at all. Instead the bill “calls for NASA to develop an ‘exploration strategy’ 270 days after the bills enactment, and every two years thereafter. That strategy would outline how NASA would perform its exploration goals, including landing humans on Mars (something explicitly included in this bill), ‘through a series of successive, free-standing, but complementary missions making robust utilization of cis-lunar space and employing the Space Launch System, Orion, and other capabilities.’ Those ‘other capabilities’ would include international partnerships and work with private industry.”
Mark R. Whittington is the author of The Man from Mars: The Asteroid Mining Caper, The Last Moonwalker and Other Stories and the Children of Apollo trilogy .