WASHINGTON – NASA (search) would get $16.4 billion next year under a bill a Senate committee approved Tuesday, reversing a decision by House lawmakers to cut the space agency's budget below this year's levels.
The Senate Appropriations Committee (search) tacked $800 million onto the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's budget by a voice vote that declared the extra money an emergency. That means the money will be borrowed, driving up the federal deficit.
The sponsors of the additional funds — Sens. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and Kay Bailey Hutchison (search), R-Texas — said without the money, NASA would not be able return the space shuttle to flight this year. The vote showed the election-year appeal of helping NASA, which has contracts in many states, even as this year's deficit is expected to hit a record $422 billion.
The bill would push NASA's budget $1 billion above what it got this year, and $200 million over what President Bush proposed. It is also $1.3 billion above what the House Appropriations Committee approved — an amount so low that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, whose Houston district has many NASA workers, was demanding extra funds.
The NASA money was included in a $94.9 billion measure also financing veterans, housing and environment programs for 2005. The panel approved the overall bill by 29-0.
— Included language by Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., forcing upper Midwest states to continue releasing water from reservoirs into the Missouri River. The issue pits upstream states suffering from drought against downstream states worried that lower water levels will threaten their river shipping;
— Voted 18-5 to extend for two more years federal milk subsidies that would otherwise expire after 2005, a proposal sponsored by Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis. Western state senators opposed the extension of a program that they said hurts their states because it does not cover large dairy farms that abound there.
— Approved another bill providing $560 million to the District of Columbia's municipal government.
Separately, the Senate approved a $2.5 billion measure financing Congress' own operations next year, about $10 million more than it got this year. The figure excluded House expenses, which by tradition the House covers in its version of the bill.
The extra NASA funds the Senate committee approved included $500 million for the space shuttle, pushing its total to $4.8 billion, and $300 million for the Hubble telescope. The bill would also cut international space station funds by $120 million to $1.6 billion.
There would also be $268 million for the space exploration vehicle, which NASA envisions as the shuttle's eventual replacement and is part of Bush's plan for missions to Mars and the Moon.
Underscoring the squeeze the Appropriations panel faces, senators found some money by resorting to other accounting moves.
They declared $1.2 billion for veterans' health care to be an emergency, allowing them to drive the total for the politically popular program to $31.1 billion.
They freed up another $1 billion by deciding to finance some expenses for local public housing authorities only through December 2005, rather than through the entire federal budget year, which runs through the following September.