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Sen. Bill Nelson's comments on the Senate floor regarding the NASA FY 2005 Budget

Status Report From: United States Senate
Posted: Saturday, March 13, 2004

NASA FUNDING -- (Senate - March 12, 2004)

   Mr. NELSON of Florida. Mr. President, my compliments to the majority leader on the way in which he offered leadership for the Senate on a rather rigorous and very lengthy discussion of the budget over the last several days. My thanks to him for the hospitality he provided in the course of a very long evening. And my compliments and congratulations to the chairman of the Budget Committee, Senator Nickles, and to Senator Conrad, the ranking member, for the extraordinarily bipartisan fashion, as the hours of the evening wore on and as nerves began to fray, of keeping a calm and cool deliberation in the midst of 300 amendments that had been filed. Those 300 amendments would have kept us here all day today, all day Saturday, all day Sunday, and well into Monday. Yet with that leadership, the chairman and the ranking member were able to get reasonable minds to come together and find consensus and therefore withdraw many amendments. That was a testimony and showed the Senate working its will.

   I asked for this time because I want to comment on one part of the budget that was passed last night. In the wee hours of the morning, an amendment was passed by unanimous consent, sponsored by Senator Sessions, Senator Shelby, this Senator from Florida, and Senator Graham of Florida. It was an amendment to bring the level of funding for NASA provided in the budget resolution up to the level requested by the President. This was no small amount of money, for what had come out of the Budget Committee, over my objection, was a cut to America's space program, as evidenced in the NASA budget, of $631 million.

   My pleas in the course of our deliberations in the Budget Committee to get the White House to step forward and to support its request for its full funding at a level of $16.2 billion, went unheeded. Indeed, those pleas went unheeded for the White House to support its own budget on NASA all the way up through the end of the deliberations this entire week until around 1 o'clock this morning.

   It was only when Senator Sessions and Senator Shelby each put their foot down to let the chairman of the Budget Committee know that their votes on final passage were questionable unless that was brought up to the level of the President's request did we successfully get inserted into the budget an amendment that would bring NASA up to the $16.2 billion.

   Where was the White House and why did it take--and I give great credit to Senator Shelby--that long, with my encouragement and that of others, to get the budget resolution amended so when this budget resolution is ultimately passed after conference with the House of Representatives there will not be such a financial straitjacket on NASA so the appropriations committees could not give the adequate funding to NASA? Yet that is what we were faced with at 1 o'clock this morning.

   Where is the White House? That is the subject of my commentary. There is no greater supporter in the Senate for America's space program than this Senator from Florida, who has had the great privilege of being a part of the space program. There is no greater need than the need at this particular time for the full funding of the President's request, with all that NASA has on its plate. It has, not only the new initiative announced by the President back in January of going back to the Moon and then eventually to Mars--of course, no funding really being provided for that, the major funding being provided in the President's announcement in the outyears--but all the other things on NASA's plate.

   We had a major space disaster, the second one that occurred within the span of 17 years. Now, as a result of an excellent report brought forth by Admiral Geman's commission, we understand what specific things need to be done to fix the problem and to get back into flight. Of course, it is going to cost a lot of money to make those fixes, and indeed the downtime is costing NASA all kinds of turmoil and uncertainty.

   For us not to have the White House step forward and say with vigor that they support their budget request for NASA caused us to just narrowly, by the skin of our teeth, avert a disaster of almost passing a budget resolution last night that was $631 million under the President's request. There is too much riding on our exploring the heavens for this extremely prestigious and very productive program of the United States called America's space program. As we explore the heavens, we continue to push out the frontiers of our knowledge, and as we develop the technology to do that, that then translates into magnificent enhancement in the quality of our lives as the technology from the space program is applied to our normal, everyday lives.

   I call on the White House. I call on the leadership of NASA. We cannot take for granted just because the President has announced a major new initiative that it is going to get funded. Indeed, we are swimming upstream. The immediate reaction of the American people to the President's initiative was they didn't support it. There is only one person who can lead the space program. That is the President or the Vice President. A Senator can't lead it. The administrator of NASA can't lead it, particularly on bold new initiatives. It has to be the White House that leads it.

   I implore the White House and NASA to step forward and support your report. Otherwise, we are going to get into a situation where mistakes of omission are going to occur like almost occurred last night. Suddenly we are going to find ourselves with a final budget product that is going to straitjacket NASA with less funds than the President requested.

   Now more than ever NASA needs those funds to return to flight as safely as possible. I say that because space flight is risky. But it is a risk worth taking because of the expansion of our knowledge and the fulfilling of our desire in our inner souls to be explorers and adventurers, a characteristic of the American people.

   I felt compelled to share these thoughts as one of the biggest boosters of the U.S. space program--indeed, the world's space program. For we are in an international venture with other nations of this world on the international space station, sharing various citizens of the world on different avenues, namely, American rockets through the space shuttle and European and Russian rockets on other space ventures.

   It is important the White House back their request vigorously. I hope and I expect they will do so, and then we will continue to have an excellent space program.

   Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.

// end //

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