Panel OKs Commerce, Justice and Science bill, takes no stand on moon missions

Legislation would provide the $19 billion that Obama requested for NASA, but would withhold funding on the manned space program.

The House Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee unanimously approved a $60.5 billion fiscal 2011 funding bill Tuesday that remains silent on President Obama's controversial decision to kill the program to send U.S. astronauts to the moon and then Mars.

The subcommittee's legislation would provide the $19 billion that Obama requested for NASA but would withhold funding on the manned space program until the issue is addressed in an authorization bill passed by Congress and signed by the president.

Obama canceled the Constellation program that was intended to provide a replacement for the space shuttles, which are due to be retired by the end of the year. The president said the program started by then-President George W. Bush was too expensive and too far behind schedule.

Overall, the panel's funding total nearly matches the Obama administration's request, which was close to $4 billion below current-year funding. But most of the reduction reflects the end of the big addition for the 2010 Census.

The committee rejected on a party-line, 9-5 vote an amendment by House Appropriations Committee ranking member Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., that would have cut the funding by 3.18 percent. Lewis sought to bring spending back to the current level minus the increase for the census.

The Commerce Department would receive $8.89 billion, $69.7 million below the administration's request, with most of the cuts coming from the International Trade Administration, Bureau of Industry and Security, and the Institute of Standards.

But the bill adds money to the Economic Development Administration. Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., said that would cover initiatives to bring back to the United States jobs that have been moved offshore.

The Justice Department would get $30 billion, an increase of $295 million over the request, which went to continue staffing improvements at the Bureau of Prisons, additional programs to stop violence against women and to the Office of Justice Programs.

The bill would provide the requested total of $26.4 billion for science, which included small increases in programs to stimulate science, mathematics and engineering education and small adjustments in the various space exploration programs.

In addressing the funding for NASA, Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., said any major change in the nation's space program should come through an authorization enacted into law. But he noted that any determination of the future of manned space has been "put on hold" while awaiting the administration's response to the Augustine Commission's report on the issue.

Despite bipartisan support for the overall package presented by Mollohan, the subcommittee voted down along party lines a series of amendments by Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas. One would have banned the cooperation on space programs with China that Obama has proposed; others would have prevented the use of any funds for federal agents providing Miranda Rights to suspected terrorists, or to challenge Arizona's tough anti-immigration law.

The panel accepted a Culberson amendment requiring Justice to report on the execution and possible expansion of "Operation Streamline," a George W. Bush-era effort to crack down on illegal border crossings, and one by Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Ala., that would require an in-depth study of the potential environmental impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and require the government to ensure reimbursement for the damages.