Congress approved nearly $6 billion in spending cuts in the most recent three-week continuing resolution. Avoiding the ax was a budget provision that mandates the spending of $1.4 million a day on a cancelled NASA program.
The provision, requiring continued spending on the Constellation Program, was inserted into the 2010 budget by Alabama Republican Sen. Richard Shelby. In lieu of a new budget, continuing resolutions have included the language.
NASA inspector general Paul K. Martin wrote to Congress on January 11 to request “immediate action” to end the waste.
Martin wrote, “Without congressional intervention, by the end of February 2011 NASA anticipates spending up to $215 million on Constellation projects that, absent the restrictive appropriations language, it would have considered canceling or significantly scaling back.”
Following Martin’s plea, Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson announced that he would introduce legislation to remove the provision.
Nelson press secretary Bryan Gulley told the Chicago Tribune, “There’s no reason for the spending provision that’s putting NASA in a jam, other than partisan politics over a broader government spending measure.”
“There’s no real opposition to Sen. Nelson’s proposal to remove the language in question, except that lawmakers aren’t able to agree on longer-term budget cuts,” Gulley said. “Still, Sen. Nelson is convinced the problem will be fixed, and soon.”
“This is just a case of congressional inertia failing to take care of the problem — at a cost to taxpayers,” Taxpayers for Common Sense vice president Steve Ellis told The Tribune.
“Maybe $1 million a day isn’t a big deal when you have a $1.6 trillion [federal] deficit,” president of Citizens Against Government Waste Thomas Schatz said to The Tribune, noting that the waste is “not the kind of decision any normal organization would make.”
The current three-week continuing resolution funds the government through April 8. Fifty-four House Republicans voted against it, many claiming that it didn’t reduce spending enough.