A New Space Policy Action Alert

I just received this via email:

To Americans Supporting Real Reform of NASA’s Human Exploration Program
Last night the House Science & Technology Committee launched a final desperate defense of Constellation and attack on commercial crew.  This House committee is proposing a misleadingly named “compromise bill,” which in fact would cut commercial crew funding, place 24 separate restrictions on commercial crew, and opens the door to continuing Ares I. (More details on this still-flawed bill are at the bottom of this alert.)

But there is a bigger problem with this last minute “compromise”. Because the House bill is so different from what the Senate already passed, the Senate probably can’t pass this bill before the election, if ever… leaving NASA with no direction until December, or perhaps even next year. This means more drift for human spaceflight, more money wasted paying Constellation contractors enough to stay alive, but not building anything (at least not anything worth building).  And it means more months of delay while important new initiatives, like exploration technology and commercial crew are NOT quickly ramped up.  New jobs NOT being created.   Our future NOT being invented. 

There’s only one solution to this mess. The House should simply pass the better Senate bill, S3729. We need your help TODAY to make that happen.
Call your Congressman TODAY.  Ask them to vote against House bill HR5781 or any House-written NASA Authorization bill if it comes to the floor this Friday or next week, and instead vote to pass Senate bill S3729 before the House recesses for the election.
If your Congressman is a Democrat, ask them to contact Majority Leader Hoyer in opposition to any NASA bill other than Senate bill S3729 coming to the floor, and to request that S3729 be brought to the floor for an up or down vote next week.
If your Congressman is a Republican, ask them to contact Minority Whip Eric Cantor in opposition to any NASA bill other than Senate bill S3729 coming to the floor, and to request that S3729 be brought to the floor for an up or down vote next week.


Why the deceptively-named “House compromise bill” is harmful to America’s future in space

The “tweaked” version of HR5781:
…mandates 24 separate restrictions on the development of commercial crew, which is THREE TIMES more restrictions than the Senate bill. 
…it combines funding for Commercial Crew and Cargo into one pot and cuts the total by 33% from the Senate bill and by 51% from the President’s request. In fact, depending on how the funds are allocated, commercial crew could wind up being cut as much as 80% from the President’s request.
…added together, that will delay new commercial human spaceflight capabilities by years, extending our dependence on Russia, postponing improved access to the ISS for scientists and engineers to do research, and pushing off Americans’ chances to fly into orbit on an American rocket. 
…tweaks the heavy-lift language of the Senate bill to allow NASA to continue developing Ares I if the agency wanted to, all in a desperate ploy to continue the unsustainable Constellation program as is.
…it then goes on to tell NASA to give Congress 30 days notice before terminating or allowing any Constellation contracts to lapse, and gives special dispensation to the Ares solid rocket motors.
…which is pure pork legislative sausage, for just one company. 

For the House to even consider slowing down opening the space frontier so it can prop up one company is disgraceful. The Senate bill isn’t perfect, but it’s much better than this phony compromise. The House should just swallow their pride and pass S.3729.

Also, via email, Andrew Langer, head of the Institute for Liberty says:

A) Does the half-a-billion dollar education budget include junkets to Saudi Arabia?
B) The increased money for commercial is an insulting tip-o’-the-hat which doesn’t address the underlying concerns with the direction of NASA policy.

The whole thing seems like a rushed attempt to sweep past what Congressional leadership didn’t think was going to be a bill that would be fought. It demonstrates that they fail to understand the nature of parochial politics (ie, all politics is personal), and they have a real tin ear to what the public is upset about.

Just one more example of the dysfunctionality of space policy for the past half century.

[Update a few minutes later]

There’s more on the “compromise” over at Space Politics and Space Transport News.

[Update a few more minutes later]

I should note that the reason I use the word “compromise” in quotes is because it isn’t really. That is, it is not the product of the negotiations with the Senate, but rather a new House bill that was somewhat influenced by those discussions. From the standpoint of reaching agreement with the upper house, it is in no way an improvement on the previous effort. That is, it will still probably be dead on arrival in a conference. It’s really just a last desperate attempt for the House to get its rattle back, and it will probably result in months more of uncertainty for the agency.

[Update a while later]

The Space Access Society (i.e., Henry Vanderbilt) has their own alert out:

URGENT NASA Funding Battle Action

In a surprise move, the House parties to the ongoing House-Senate negotiations over a NASA Authorization bill have unilaterally come up with a substitute version of their original (and very bad) HR.5781. This new version of HR.5781 may be voted on as soon as tomorrow, Friday 9/24. After a quick review of the new bill text, we strongly urge you to IMMEDIATELY contact your Representative and ask them to reject HR.5781 and instead approve the Senate version S.3729.

Briefly, the Senate bill is an acceptable compromise between the White House’s NASA reform proposals and the House Science Committee’s attempt to preserve the untenable Ares/Orion status quo. This new bill from the House Science Committee does roughly split the difference between the Senate’s (already marginal) Crew/Cargo and R&D funding numbers and the old House version’s totally unacceptable numbers, and is in that sense a “compromise.”

However, this new version of HR.5781 places a whole tangle of reviews, reports, certifications, and other requirements on Commercial Crew, the general effect of which cannot be other than to discourage such efforts. It retains specific Commercial Crew poison pill requirements that neither NASA nor existing Russian providers have to meet. It retains the old version’s general support for continued development of something a lot like Ares/Orion, and (assuming that it ever even flies at the reduced-yet-further-from-Augustine-minimums funding) it effectively then allows government competition with US commercial crew vendors via an “if practicable” escape clause on its “prohibition” of such competition.

All that aside, it is our understanding that, while this version reflects some of the previous negotiations with the Senate, it was NOT run past or approved by the Senate parties. It is a unilateral move by the House Science Committee to preempt the process, and as such it will inevitably lead to more months of Congressional wrangling, more months of NASA paralysis and drift, increased vulnerability of NASA Exploration to the Deficit Reduction Commission’s attentions, and more months of massive uncertainty for the workers and organizations involved.

Enough is enough. We think it’s time to settle on the Senate compromise, resolve this matter, and move forward.

What To Do

We ask that you call your Representative’s DC office (go to http://www.house.gov/zip/ZIP2Rep.html for their name and party, and call them via the US Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121), TODAY if at all possible and overnight or by early Friday morning at latest, and (politely!) tell the person you end up talking to (most likely a staffer or a staffer’s voicemail) the following:

Ask them to vote against House bill HR.5781 (or any House-written NASA Authorization bill) if it comes to the floor this Friday or next week. Ask them to instead vote to pass Senate bill S.3729 before the House recesses for the election.

– If your Representative is a Democrat, ask them to contact Majority Leader Hoyer in opposition to any NASA bill other than Senate bill S.3729 coming to the floor, and to request that S.3729 be brought to the floor for an up or down vote next week.

– If your Representative is a Republican, ask them to contact Minority Whip Eric Cantor in opposition to any NASA bill other than Senate bill S.3729 coming to the floor, and to request that S3729 be brought to the floor for an up or down vote next week.

– If your Congressman is a strong supporter of the House bill – Bart Gordon, Gabrielle Giffords, Alan Grayson, etc – politely explain that you strongly support S.3729, the Senate NASA Authorization bill, and you’d like them to also, because it’s a reasonable compromise between the White House and House positions, and because NASA really needs an Authorization to let it begin moving forward again.

thanks for your time

Henry Vanderbilt
for Space Access Society

[Early afternoon update]

My sources in the Beltway are now saying that the House just tried to do a new compromise of the “compromise” on the Senate hotline, and were rebuffed with the message, “our bill or no bill.” So they continue to play chicken. That is, the only way there will be an authorization bill this session is for the House to bring to the floor and pass the Senate bill. As Henry Vanderbilt notes in comments, this is the best outcome in terms of allowing NASA to move forward, but it’s not looking very likely.

[Update a few minutes later]

The Space Frontier Foundation has put out their own action alert.

Will This Stupid Phrase Never Die?

In the midst of whining about the Republican “Pledge to America” (which I haven’t had time to read, and may not find it for a while), we get this email from a Pelosi aide:

“Congressional Republicans are pledging to ship jobs overseas, blow a $700 billion hole in the deficit to give tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires; turn Social Security from a guaranteed benefit into a guaranteed gamble; once again, subject American families to the recklessness of Wall Street; and take away patients’ rights.”

Emphasis mine.

I know it’s nitpickery, but it drove me crazy when Al Gore bellowed “blow a hole in the deficit” over and over a decade ago. A deficit is a hole. How do you “blow a hole” in a hole? Whenever I hear this expression, it results in at least a twenty-point drop in my estimation of the user’s IQ.

Time For Bolden To Go?

I think that the combination of the ethics thing and the trip to Saudi Arabia may be the last straw, even for this politically tone-deaf White House. They’ve noticed the problem over at The Corner, linking to Monday’s story at the Orlando Sentinel.

I’ve never been impressed with him, at least as administrator. He’s completely incapable of selling the new policy, or even being able to articulate it in any consistent way, and I think that he’s becoming a huge political liability for the agency. If he goes, though, it’s unlikely that he’ll be replaced before the Republicans come in next year, which will make it both interesting and difficult to find a confirmable replacement (meaning that Lori could be acting for an indefinite period).

Dahlia Lithwick

In which I completely agree with Ramesh (not to imply that I generally disagree with him, though I occasionally do, being more libertarian than conservative):

If O’Donnell loses the Senate race, she should become Slate‘s chief legal writer. It would be a step up for the publication.

A big one.

And it’s just another example of the contempt in which people like Dahlia (and frequent commenter Thomas Matula) hold the Constitution and its requirements for elected officials and their oath.

[Update Thursday morning]

I can’t link it, because, well, it’s an email, but here are Jonah Goldberg’s thoughts:

This is awesome. It’s not just that Lithwick dismisses a perfectly sensible and mainstream argument. It’s not just that she is ignorant of the contents of the actual Constitution (it does not provide for the Supreme Court serving as the either sole or final arbiter of what is constitutional). It’s not that she seems to have forgotten Marbury v. Madison. It’s not that she cannot grasp the idea that some legislator might not want to vote for unconstitutional legislation. No, what really makes this great is the absolute bunkered pomposity behind her instinctual certainty that anyone who disagrees with her bouillabaisse of ignorance and ideology must be “weird.”


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