Election Implications For NASA - Part 2

Democrats Take Control of the Senate, AP

"Democrats wrested control of the Senate from Republicans Wednesday with an upset victory in Virginia, giving the party complete domination of Capitol Hill for the first time since 1994. Jim Webb's squeaker win over incumbent Sen. George Allen gave Democrats their 51st seat in the Senate...."

Editor's note: Sen. Allen has just conceeded the election to Jim Webb.

It is one thing if only the House is run by Democrats. It is quite another if the Senate is run by them as well. Given that the Democrats seem to be intent upon placing all of the Bush Administration's activities under closer scrutiny, NASA should expect much more oversight than it has had in previous years. And that scrutiny is no longer going to be modulated by the White House.

Sen. Byrd (D-WV) would be in line to chair the Senate Appropriations Committee (more good news for IV&V). The Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee would likely be chaired by Sen. Mikulski (D-MD) (good news for GSFC). Of course, this means that Sen. Shelby (R-AL) would find his ability to bully NASA into a corner (when it comes to MSFC issues) greatly diminished.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation stands to be chaired by Sen. Inouye (D-HI). The Science and Space Subcommittee will almost certainly be chaired by Sen. Nelson (D-FL). If Sen. Allen (who is on the committee) does indeed lose, then LaRC will lose a supporter. Sen. Hutchison (R-TX) won re-election and will continue to serve to represent JSC's interests.

At first glance, it is likely that the Senate's oversight of NASA is much less likely to undergo any dramatic changes in the short term given the way that the Senate has been handling things. Indeed, Sen. Mikulski and Sen. Hutchison (who sits on both the authorizing and appropriations committees that oversee NASA) have had an interesting mutual cooperation pact for the past few years, so it is likely that this will continue. Mikulski and Hutchison have developed a plan whereby they hope to give NASA $2.4 billion over the course of several years so as to allow NASA to gain back the funds it had used to cover the aftermath of the Columbia accident.

Of course, it is likely that oversight as to the Shuttle fleet and its replacement by the CEV will increase once Nelson assumes the chairmanship. Issues relating to the use of the ISS will also be of interest to the committee.

It is much more likely that we'll see some political theatre in the House Science Committee. Things to watch out for: hearings on the cost of the VSE and its architecture, balancing the VSE against science cuts, and the Administration's stance on global warming research.

One thing is certain, however. While there is a Republican majority in Congress, explaining the rationale behind the VSE as being "because the President has directed us to do this" works well enough. However, with the prospect of losing control of both the House and Senate, this will no longer suffice as far as Congress is concerned.

Supporters of the VSE at NASA and the White House (if there are any left) are going to need to find a new, non-partisan underlying rationale for the VSE. The NASA Authorization Act of 2005 was a start - but it is going to take more than a piece of legislation to keep the VSE on track as a new Congress puts its costs and plans under a microscope.

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on November 9, 2006 3:13 PM.

The Changes That Lie Ahead was the previous entry in this blog.

Chief of UK's MIB Speaks Out is the next entry in this blog.

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