Senate appropriators propose $17.9 billion for NASA

The Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee held a brief markup session Wednesday afternoon for its 2012 funding bill. The committee released only a summary of its appropriations bill, which features $17.9 billion for NASA in 2012, less than the $18.7 billion sought by the administration but more than the $16.8 billion House appropriators approved in July. The summary doesn't provide any other numbers about the NASA, instead stating that the "bill preserves NASA portfolio balanced among science, aeronautics, technology and human space flight investments" and that it "provides funds to enable a 2018 launch of the James Webb Space Telescope" (JWST). On the latter point, the subcommittee's chair, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), said that the bill provides $530 million for JWST, above the administration's request for $373.7 million (House appropriators, infamously, provided no funding for JWST in their bill.) She also includes that figure in her press release about the bill, which adds that NASA science programs overall will get $5.1 billion, just above the administration's request for $5.02 billion. In her remarks at the markup, though, she added that "we included stringent bill language limiting development costs" without elaborating. Beyond that, there are no hard numbers about NASA's budget in the summary. The brief markup, though, provided a few more hints. "We are going to fund the priorities that our authorizing committees in the Senate and House passed last year," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), ranking member of the subcommittee. "We are going to fully fund the priorities according to the authorizing levels." However, since the 2010 authorization act authorized a total of $19.45 billion in 2012-$1.55 billion above what Senate appropriations are proposing-not every program can be funded at authorized levels. What are those priorities? Hutchison indicated that the Space Launch System and Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle would be funded, although in the authorization those programs would get $4.05 billion, while comments earlier in the day indicated that those programs would get $3 billion a year through 2017. Hutchison also cited science as well as commercial crew as priorities in her remarks; the authorization act authorized $500 million for commercial crew in 2012, while the administration's budget proposal sought $850 million. Notably absent from the discussion of priorities in the hearing: aeronautics and space technology. "The NASA budget will be exactly where it was in 2009," Mikulski said in her remarks. "So, if you liked 2009, you're going to be crazy about our bill." More details are likely to be forthcoming when the full committee takes up the bill Thursday afternoon, when it will also probably debate a number of amendments to the legislation.

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