Full House Authorization Committee Overseeing NASA Has Stable Leadership, But Major Shakeup Hits Subcommittee

NASA Faces New Top Appropriators In Both Senate, House Next Year

In the wake of elections last week, potential changes in the committees that oversee authorizations and appropriations for NASA are incredibly complex, but fascinating and important.

In the upper chamber, Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, didn’t have to stand for reelection, and thus could continue as chairman.

However, Inouye now has an opportunity elsewhere: his friend, Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), now 90 years old and in frail health, on Friday announced he will step down as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Inouye, age 84, is the next-ranking Democrat on the appropriations panel, and thus is in line to become chairman of the powerful committee that controls government spending.

If Inouye as expected moves to lead the appropriations panel, then the other senator from West Virginia, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, would be the next-most-senior Democrat in line to chair the commerce panel.

Rockefeller won reelection to another six-year term, taking 64 percent of the vote against the 36 percent showing of his opponent, Republican Jay Wolfe.

And all that is just on the Democratic side of the commerce-science body.

On the Republican side, more change may be brewing.

Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska currently is the ranking member. However, Stevens stands convicted on seven corruption charges, and some senators say he should be ejected from the Senate, even before his appeal to a higher court is heard.

Should Stevens depart the Senate, that would leave Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who lost his bid to be elected president, as the most-senior Republican on the commerce-science committee. However, McCain already is the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

If he wishes to retain that armed services ranking post, that might mean the commerce-science ranking Republican position might go to Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi.

That state is home to major Northrop Grumman Corp. [NOC] shipbuilding interests.

Northrop has substantial dealings with NASA, ranging from a Lunar Crater-Observation and Sensing System spacecraft to major information technology work.

But Lott already is the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, and might be reluctant to give up that plum post.

So the next most-senior GOP senator on the commerce-science panel would be Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas. She is a strong supporter of NASA. Her state is home to the Johnson Space Center and its mission control operation. And Hutchison works well across the aisle, teaming up with Democrats to get things done for the space agency.

House Authorizations For NASA

On the House Science and Technology Committee, which oversees NASA authorizations, chairman Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) seized a whopping 74 percent of the vote to crush his Republican opponent, Chris Baker.

Gordon has had a cordial relationship with the ranking Republican on the committee, Rep. Ralph M. Hall of Texas, who won reelection with 69 percent of the vote, while his Democratic opponent Glenn Melancon garnered just 29 percent.

On the House Science space and aeronautics subcommittee that oversees NASA, Rep. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) got a nice promotion from the voters, who elected him to the Senate. Udall received 52 percent of the votes, against a 43 percent showing by Democrat Bob Schaffer. Udall’s move to the Senate leaves the House subcommittee chairmanship vacant.

Next in seniority among space and aeronautics subcommittee Democrats is Rep. David Wu of Oregon. Wu breezed to a reelection victory, taking 73 percent of the vote, against 18 percent for Independent Joel Haugen.

The current ranking Republican on the subcommittee, Rep. Tom Feeney of Florida, lost his bid for reelection, taking only 41 percent of the vote against Democrat Suzanne Kosmas, who picked up 57 percent. Republicans faced an uphill battle at the polls this year.

Feeney had expressed concerns that central Florida is about to lose thousands of jobs when the space shuttle fleet stops flying in 2010, under a retirement plan mandated by Republican President Bush.

Giffords Wins, Lampson Loses

Meanwhile, another Arizona House member who will be returning to Capitol Hill is Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat who handily beat her opponent, Republican Tim Bee, by a 55 percent to 43 percent showing.

She is a member of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) air and land forces subcommittee, which oversees a wide range of programs, including military aircraft procurement.

Aside from being a member of the HASC, Giffords also is a member of the House Science and Technology Committee, which oversees NASA.

Generally a solid supporter of NASA, Giffords is married to an astronaut, Mark Kelly, who has flown three missions aboard Space Shuttle Discovery, most recently in the two-week STS-124 Mission to the International Space Station in May and June.

But another NASA supporter in Congress who won’t be returning is Rep. Nick Lampson. Lampson lost his reelection bid, attracting just 45 percent of the vote to the 52 percent reaped by Republican Pete Olson.

Senate Appropriations For NASA

We’ve already covered the decision by Byrd to step down from the Senate Appropriations Committee chairmanship, and Inouye’s likely ascension to that post

On the Republican side, Sen. Thad Cochran, the other senator from Mississippi, already is the ranking GOP committee member on the appropriations body. Cochran won another six- year term in the Senate, reaping 62 percent of the vote to the 38 percent going to Democrat Erik Fleming.

Moving to the subcommittee level, the commerce, justice, science and related agencies panel oversees NASA.

This subcommittee is chaired by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), a tireless fighter for NASA. For example, she pushed for, and won, funding for a space shuttle flight to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. Space Shuttle Atlantis was to have lifted off last month, but Hubble woes delayed the mission. (Please see Space & Missile Defense Report, Monday, Nov. 3, 2008.)

Mikulski wasn’t up for reelection this year, as was true of Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the ranking Republican.

House Appropriations for NASA

The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee (HAC), Rep. Dave Obey (D-Mich.), wasn’t on the ballot this year.

Next in seniority on the full committee among HAC Democrats is Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, currently chairman of the HAC defense subcommittee. Murtha won reelection, taking 58 percent of the vote versus his Republican opponent, William Russell, with just 42 percent.

Murtha, from his defense spending oversight, has extensive familiarity with major contractors working for NASA.

The ranking Republican on the full appropriating committee, Rep. Jerry Lewis of California, won reelection. He took 61 percent of the vote, while his Democratic opponent Tim Prince trailed with 39 percent.

The commerce, justice, science and related agencies subcommittee oversees NASA funding.

Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (D-W.Va.), the subcommittee chairman, was unopposed for reelection.

Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, the ranking Republican, also will be back, winning another two years in office by taking 62 percent of the vote, against 37 percent for Democrat Tom Wyka.