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New Spending Plan to Placate Congress

March 23, 2010
By ANDY PASZTOR, Wall Street Journal
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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is scrambling to come up with a new budget proposal to placate congressional critics as senior members of the House Appropriations Committee say that White House's plan for the agency won't fly on Capitol Hill.

The Obama administration had initially proposed to allocate $6 billion over five years for a program that eventually would outsource manned space missions to private companies. Members of the appropriations subcommittee, including Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia, its ranking Republican, have told NASA in recent weeks that they won't support the White House's proposed budget

"There really isn't any support" for the administration's original proposal, Mr. Wolf said in an interview. Opposition to the White House's budget submission "appears overwhelming," the lawmaker said, adding that a bipartisan group already has the votes to block it on the appropriations panel and probably on the floor of the House.

"There's no need for [NASA] to push something that nobody is in favor of," Mr. Wolf said.

NASA chief Charles Bolden is scheduled to appear before the House appropriations subcommittee Tuesday.

NASA officials have assembled a number of study teams to consider various budget revisions. In a statement released late Monday, a NASA spokesman went further than the agency has before to indicate that discussions are underway to reach a possible compromise.

"We are working hard to address the concerns expressed by some members of Congress, and believe they want to support a plan that puts us on a more ambitious and sustainable course for exploration," the statement said. According the statement, NASA continues to believe "that's what our new budget proposal does."

In a letter to NASA earlier this month, Mr. Wolf and bipartisan group of 14 other lawmakers complained that under the White House's plan, "the U.S. will have no exploration spacecraft or launch vehicles in development for the foreseeable future." The letter urged the NASA chief to "assemble a team of NASA experts" to come up with possible budget compromises. The lawmakers want NASA, among other things, to continue development of the current heavy-lift Ares V rocket.