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House Rejects Amendment to Cut $10 Million from FY 2013 Funding for Mars Program

Richard M. Jones
Number 72 - May 24, 2012  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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One of the 63 amendments offered during House consideration of HR. 5326, the FY 2013 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Bill, proposed shifting $10.0 million from the appropriation for NASA’s Mars Next Decade program to a Department of Justice program providing for student loan repayments for prosecutors and public defenders.  This amendment was offered by Rep. John Tierney, an eight-term Democrat representing the sixth district in Massachusetts.  This amendment was rejected by a vote of 160-260.

Selections from floor debate on this amendment follow:
Rep. Tierney:

“Now, it's a difficult time. If we're going to take this money and appropriate it in this fashion, we, unfortunately, have to find those resources somewhere else. We have recommended an offset with a modest reduction to the Mars Next Decade program. That Mars Next Decade program will still get over $100 million more in the bill than it otherwise would have gotten. The House report notes a concern that there is a question about whether or not the Mars Next Decade program has actually accomplished one of the requirements of getting a sample and reporting. There is even language in the bill that puts off any expenditure of these moneys until such a report is made to the National Research Council and they're allowed to move forward.
“The $150 million that is in the Mars Next Decade budget is still sizeable and on board with what was in the President's request, and still allows the program to move forward. I think it is a tradeoff that's fair. And I think Mr. [Rep. Trey] Gowdy [(R-SC)] agrees with me, that as painful as it may be to take from one area, that program will still march on, we'll still have $78 million more than the President requested. But if we don't do anything, the John R. Justice program will have nothing. District attorneys and public defenders, our court systems across the Nation won't have the ability to have well-trained people being recruited and retained and making our system work. So that's the premise here.”

House Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA):
“This [funding] was part of a delicate compromise with regard to the Mars program and the Europa program. The committee took great pains to ensure that NASA science funding reflected the planetary science priorities and goals of the National Academy of Science and included the development of sample return missions to Mars. It's the Decadal Survey. To take this out of that, when it was so difficult, I think would be a mistake.
“Such a mission would represent an unprecedented scientific undertaking and enable the next fundamental advance of Mars science and ensure that America's undisputed leadership in Mars exploration remains unchanged. This is the imaginative part of the space program.
“Two weeks ago, when the shuttle flew over Washington and this building, literally everyone went outside to look at it. This was one of the most imaginative and creative things for America to continue to be number one in space. I would tell the gentleman I would hope we would vote it down . . . .  We could try to work as we go to [this fall’s appropriations] conference and all, but I would hope that we could vote this down, particularly since it takes it from Mars. And I will give the gentleman my assurance to move ahead and see what we can do to it, but not take it from Mars.  With that, I yield back the balance of my time.”

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA):

“Madam Chair, I rise in strong opposition to the amendment and urge my colleague to withdraw the amendment and work with us on this issue.
“As a former U.S. attorney, I have the greatest respect and support for loan-forgiveness programs of this nature. It is absolutely a worthwhile cause. But the Mars program was devastated by the administration's budget.
“This is one of the crown jewels of planetary science. In fact, the whole planetary science budget was decimated by the administration in its proposal. Thankfully, through the work of the chairman and the ranking member, the planetary science budget has been restored, and part of what has been taken out of the Mars program has been restored. Nevertheless, the Mars program was cut by hundreds of millions, and we have a long way to go to have a healthy Mars program.
“As we speak, one of the most difficult missions ever undertaken, the Mars Science Laboratory, is on its way to the Martian surface. This will be path-breaking in terms of its scientific return. This is an area where we are second to none in the world. No one else has the skills to enter the Martian atmosphere, descend, and land on Mars. That is an incredible talent pool that can make that possible. At a time when we have to go hat in hand to the Russians to get a ride to the space station, but we are still the unquestioned leader in planetary science, with the Mars program leading the way, we do not need to decimate the Mars program further.
“Thanks to the work of Chairman Wolf and Ranking Member Fattah, we are on the path to restoring this great program so that we can continue on the road that we're on where we are tantalizingly close now to finding the building blocks of life on another planet, and this is what is at stake.
“So while I sympathize with the desire of the gentleman from Massachusetts to plus-up the program that he supports - and I support it, too - the offset would be devastating, devastating to the brilliant people that work in this area, devastating to all those around the country that love planetary science and that are going to be watching breathlessly on August 5 as Curiosity lands on the Martian surface and sends back new information about one of our neighbors in the solar system.
 “I urge a ‘no’ vote on the amendment. I urge us to continue to push the envelope of our understanding of the universe. And we just simply cannot choose this as an offset, such a valuable national treasure as the Mars program.  I yield back the balance of my time.”

 Rep. Tierney:

“I thank the gentleman.  I think it is reprehensible, actually, that the [House Republican] majority has chosen to go with the [House Budget Committee Chairman Paul] Ryan [R-WI)] budget numbers over the [budget] agreement [legislation] that was reached last August. I think it has put the chairman and ranking member and the members of that committee in a terrible position. We can see it just by the juxtaposition of two programs here that obviously people think have merit on this aspect.
“As much as taking $10 million from the amount of money that otherwise would have gone to the Mars program would leave them $10 million less than they would have had, but $78 million more than otherwise was in there. Doing nothing with respect to this motion would lead to our Justice program with zero dollars in the House budget.
“So I am thinking that we'll take a vote here; and if we pass, I hope that the committee is able to work with the Senate to bring the Mars program back to where people want it to be. I am hoping from what I have heard here that people think there is merit to our district attorneys and our public defenders as having some money in their accounts so that they can have good qualified people moving our justice system forward, and they will take care of that in conference.

“But one way or the other, we need to know that taking a program and putting it down to zero at a time when our justice system is crying out for fairness and crying out for the tools to operate appropriately for our district attorneys throughout the country as well as public defenders who are saying that this is essential, that maybe at least having a debate on this issue and talking about it will make sure that we can get all the programs that we need funded to the level that we're able to do so that we can move both of those things.
‘So either way this motion goes, I hope that if we win on this case, that we argue strongly to hold that number in the [appropriations] conference and then work to do something with the Mars program.”

Richard M. Jones
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics