Ms. GIFFORDS. Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to recognize Chairman Gordon for his outstanding leadership chairing our full committee. We are going to miss you, Mr. Chairman. It has been an outstanding experience for me the last couple of terms. And as well, to Ranking Member Hall and Ranking Member Olson for their leadership.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today in strong opposition to S. 3729, the Senate’s NASA authorization bill.
As chair of the House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, and along with the other members of the subcommittee and full committee, we care deeply about the future of NASA and the future of our Nation’s civil space program. NASA defines us as a Nation, who we are–our defense, our innovation, our inspiration, our ability to explore. We care deeply about the role that Congress needs to play to ensure that NASA will embark on an executable and a sustainable path for the future.
In contrast to supporters of the Senate bill who will say that today they reluctantly support the Senate bill because it is better than doing nothing, I have no reluctance in telling you that this is a bad bill. It will do damage to NASA if enacted, and it should be voted down tonight.
Now, I know that Members have a lot of different issues on their minds today. Certainly most Members didn’t even know that a NASA authorization bill was coming up for a vote today. So for Members who are making up their minds on whether to support this bill today, I would like to offer a couple of reasons why you should oppose it.
If you are a member of the Blue Dog Coalition or a member of the Republican Study Committee, you should oppose this bill because it lacks serious budgetary discipline. To be specific, the bill contains an unfunded mandate to keep the shuttle program going through all of fiscal year 2011, even after the shuttle is retired, which, by NASA estimates, will cost NASA more than one-half billion dollars for 2011, and it doesn’t have that money. It will bust the budget for the shuttle and jeopardize NASA’s other important science, aeronautics, and technology programs.
It also contains a rocket designed not by our best engineers but by our colleagues over on the Senate side. By NASA’s own internal analysis, they estimate this rocket will cost billions more than the Senate provides.
And, finally, if you are a Blue Dog or a member of the Republican Study Committee, or any Member of Congress, you should strenuously oppose a $58 billion funding bill that is being brought up on the last day before adjourning with no House input on its creation and no opportunity for amendment by Members of the House. This is not the functioning bicameral legislature that our Founding Fathers fought to create.
Next, if you are a Member who cares deeply about STEM education or minority education programs, you need to know that this bill is written in a certain way that NASA’s STEM education programs and Minority University Research and Education programs will be cut in excess of 30 percent.
What does this mean? Well, it means if you represent a Historically Black College or University or Hispanic-serving institution, a tribal college, this sort of institution, you will be affected by these cuts.
In addition, if you care about the future of NASA’s human spaceflight program, you should oppose this bill. As I mentioned earlier, this bill contains provisions that will force NASA to build a rocket designed by Senators and not by engineers. Contrary to assertions that this bill’s supporters talk about, this rocket will be too large to economically serve as a backup commercial crew transport to the space station. It may also prove to be too small to effectively undertake human missions beyond low-Earth orbit. Not only do NASA’s own internal studies indicate that it will cost significantly more than the Senate is budgeting, but they also estimate that it will become operational years later than the Senate plan assumes.
So we are looking at this gap and, in short, the Senate bill forces NASA to build a rocket that doesn’t meet its needs, with a budget that is not adequate to do the job, and on a schedule that NASA’s own analyses says is unrealistic. That is not my idea of the executable and sustainable human spaceflight program that we all desire.
And, finally, if you care about corporate responsibility, if you care about safety, and if you want to prevent us
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from being in the position a few years down the road of having to choose between sending more money to Russia or bailing out the would-be commercial crew and cargo providers who fail to perform in budget and on schedule, you should oppose this Senate NASA bill. The Senate bill gives an additional $1.6 billion to would-be commercial cargo and crew transport companies who have yet to demonstrate that they can do either. There is no obligation that these commercial companies put any “skin in the game” of their own, and the safety requirements on their rockets are vague at best.Since the Senate bill provides no credible government backup capability to the would-be commercial providers, approving the Senate bill today would inevitably put NASA in the position of relying on these companies that will become too big to fail. The American taxpayers will then have to bear the responsibility and the burden of bad public policy if we vote on this bill tonight. I think that the public deserves better.
Now, I know that in the Senate there is a lot of debate, and some Members will fall back on the argument that they have to approve this tonight before the end of the fiscal year because the contractors are facing layoffs. And no one has more sympathy than members of our subcommittee about the workforce, but the reality is different. It is different than the rhetoric.
Aerospace jobs are tied to funding, and funding for NASA for the balance of this calendar year will be set by the continuing resolution that we will be voting on tonight, not this authorization bill. Funding for the remainder of fiscal year 2011 will be determined by the appropriations bill that we enact after we return for a lame duck session, not by this authorization.
The bill before us today cannot change the fact that the funding level for NASA’s workforce, and any layoff that will result from that funding level, will be the result of the continuing resolution and subsequent appropriation bills and not this authorization. So Members should not be fooled by this red herring argument. The truth is that you will not be doing anything to stop layoffs tonight by voting for the Senate bill today.
Does the aerospace industry need certainty? Absolutely. But they need certainty in an executable and affordable program that the Senate bill does not provide.
Could the problems with the Senate bill be fixed? Of course they could. But that is what the legislative process is about, not under suspension of the rules with no amendments allowed.
The fact of the matter is that there was a compromise NASA Authorization Act of 2010 that Science and Technology Chairman Bart Gordon proposed and is the direct result of lengthy discussions with the Senate and the House Members. Of course, that isn’t perfect, and no bill is, but flaws can be fixed by discussion between the Chambers. But if you vote tonight positively on this Senate bill, the democratic process that has been the cornerstone of our democracy will be undermined and that will not occur.
So let’s take the time to get this job done, and done the right way. Let’s vote down the Senate bill tonight so we can work with Chairman Gordon, Ranking Member Hall, and the Senate on a compromise bill so that we can have a responsible NASA bill that can be acted upon when we return for the lame duck session.
In closing, if you care about budgetary discipline, protecting STEM education, minority education programs, if you care about NASA’s human spaceflight program, you should vote “no” on the Senate authorization bill.