NASA would get budget boost in bill moving through Senate

Mikulski pushes measure providing more than Bush sought for space agency

September 22, 2004|By Kimberly A.C. Wilson | Kimberly A.C. Wilson,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Last-minute tinkering could boost NASA's budget for next year by $800 million, a result of a bipartisan push led by Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, and Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Texas Republican.

The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved funding yesterday as an emergency item to repair the space shuttle fleet and service the Hubble Space Telescope, amending the $15.6 billion NASA budget to comply with recommendations made after the Columbia shuttle accident.

"The report of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board was rigorous, thorough and independent, but NASA can't implement these recommendations without funding," Mikulski said in a statement.

Hutchison said in a separate statement, "These resources will help alleviate the strain that non-shuttle programs are facing."

The amendment, made to the bill that also pays for housing, environmental and veterans programs for next year, provides about $200 million more than President Bush proposed. It also calls for $1.3 billion more than was included in a NASA budget the House Appropriations Committee approved.

The space agency tends to be a popular election-year beneficiary of lawmakers, especially those from states such as Maryland and Texas, with numerous NASA employees.

Mikulski, the senior Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, also pushed through $2.65 million from the Department of Housing and Urban Development that would be directed toward seven Baltimore-area community projects.

If approved, the bill would provide $400,000 to build a community center in Randallstown; $400,000 to improve the community center in Dundalk; $300,000 to establish a revolving fund to buy and rehabilitate vacant properties in Northeast Baltimore; $250,000 to build a new facility for Associated Catholic Charities; $1 million for revitalization efforts by East Baltimore Development Inc.; and $300,000 for Baltimore to move its central auto repair facility from a 20-acre "brownfield" site, which the National Aquarium in Baltimore would then acquire for a conservation facility.

In addition, the bill would direct $500,000 toward Elkton wastewater infrastructure improvements, intended to limit the output of wastewater that enters the Chesapeake Bay.

The appropriations bill now moves to the Senate floor for a vote; the House and Senate would then hash out differences between their versions.

The House version could face a possible veto because it slashes NASA's budget below this year's level, but the Senate version might come in too high.

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