NASA Funding in the Ballots

Lawmakers representing NASA installations like Johnson Space Center are angling for more money for the agency. But the the extra funds could fall victim to a budget fight between Congress and the White House. Todd Zwillich has this report.

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It's been two weeks since Texas lawmakers met with the White House Budget director. They're still unsure if NASA will get an extra $1 billion in funding this year. 

Senate Democrats fended off Republican objections earlier this month to get support for the money in the Senate. It's targeted to reimburse NASA for replacing the Columbia Shuttle that burned during reentry in 2003.

The problem:  President Bush has already threatened to veto the spending bill where the NASA money sits. The issue is there's a showdown on federal spending between the president and congressional Democrats.

Texas Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison is one lawmaker pushing for the money. She says it's needed to get NASA back into space more quickly after the Shuttle's planned retirement in 2011.

 "We are bleeding NASA, and I want to lower the time between the shuttle retirement and the crew-return vehicle coming online and if we don't have this billion dollars, that's going to lengthen beyond five years."

That's five years that could cost jobs at Johnson and other NASA field facilities.

But Oklahoma Republican Senator Tom Coburn balks at the increase. Coburn is a sworn enemy of wasteful government spending. And he says the extra billion for NASA falls right into that category.

 "When NASA wastes money on 4-star hotels for conferences, I think we ought to be questioning giving them more money til they start being frugal with the money they've got."

Now $1 billion may not seem like much in this era of multi-trillion-dollar budgets. But there's big spending fight brewing between the President and the Congress. And it is unclear if the money will survive in the end.

Lawmakers say White House budget officials listened to their arguments for the money, but made no commitments.

Democratic Congressman Steny Hoyer is the House Majority Leader. He also represents the Maryland district that is home to NASA's Goddard Spaceflight Center.

"We have not seen any indication from the President that there's any flexibility in his simply saying, you take my number, or you take the highway."

The bill is awaiting action by a House-Senate conference committee before heading to the White House.

From Capitol News Connection in Washington, I'm Todd Zwillich, Houston Public Radio News.