NASA's Earth-cam becomes political football

House Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts, R-Okla., Wednesday tried to turn the tables on Democrats upset that an Internet provision championed by Vice President Al Gore was eliminated from the NASA reauthorization bill.

Watts said Democrats were playing politics in attacking a House Science Committee decision to block funding of a program to launch a satellite that would beam back pictures of the Earth for constant Internet broadcast. Instead, the committee decided to shift the money allocated for the program to disease research.

Some Democrats accused Republicans of eliminating the program to embarrass Gore, who is the frontrunner for Democratic presidential nomination. Gore has long championed technology programs.

"If [Watts] is so concerned about bipartisanship, I suggest that he talk to his own caucus where you have (House Majority Leader) Dick Armey organizing a Gore watch, (House Whip) Tom De Lay saying he is going to use Kosovo to get Gore, and (House) Speaker Hastert trying to use Y2K to undermine the Vice President. This is another example of the right hand not knowing what the extreme right hand is doing," said Chris Lehane, Gore spokesman.

"A dangerous trend has emerged recently where Democrats see everything in the light of the 2000 elections," Watts said in a statement. "They saw a vast 'Get Gore' conspiracy when we passed bipartisan legislation to help prevent Y2K computer failures and they see a vast 'Get Gore' conspiracy here. It is not partisan when Republicans dare to suggest that there are better uses for $175 million than an Earth-cam."

Watts said he supports federal funding of basic research, but dollars are better spent on cancer research rather than Internet imaging.

"It is not partisan to put cancer research ahead of Internet imaging that is already available elsewhere. It is not political to choose diabetes research over Earth cameras," Watts said.

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