Which would you rather have: mega-buck science projects like the space station, or ho-hum but essential programs like public housing operating subsidies? That's the political tightrope Sen. Barbara Mikulski had to walk this week as chairwoman of a Senate Appropriations subcommittee, which yesterday voted $2 billion to continue development of the Space Station Freedom by cutting proposed spending on Section 202 housing for the elderly. The outcome is not nearly as bad as it sounds, however.
In fact, the Mikulski compromise replaced an administration plan to fund the space station by cutting direct public housing operating subsidies that enable cities like Baltimore to maintain their public housing stock. The whittled-down Section 202 program, by contrast, is a loan program designed to encourage private, non-profit corporations to build low-cost housing for the elderly. Cuts there don't translate directly into red ink for the city and are widely expected to be made up by new grants anyway.
Sure there's a bit of the shell game in this budget abracadabra, but the bottom line is that housing funds were saved for both the poor and elderly. Moreover, Maryland, home to a robust aerospace industry, stands to profit handsomely from space station spending. This is the sort of political high wire act we rely on Mikulski for, and she has come through with flying colors.