Marcia S. Smith
Acknowledging that he has big shoes to fill, Maryland’s new senior Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) vowed to continue the space advocacy exhibited by his retired colleague Sen. Barbara Mikulski. She was legendary in her influential support for NASA and NOAA activities in Maryland. With her retirement, many worry that support for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Greenbelt, MD and NOAA’s headquarters and other facilities in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC may wane. Cardin made it clear that would not be the case.
Cardin was elected to the Senate in 2006 after two decades in the House. With Mikulski’s retirement, he becomes the state’s senior Senator and leader of Maryland’s 10-member congressional delegation. Chris Van Hollen, also a Democrat, was elected to fill Mikulski’s seat and he is now the junior Senator. The other members (seven Democrats and one Republican) represent Maryland’s eight congressional districts.
Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD). Photo credit: Sen. Cardin’s Senate website.
In his debut at the Maryland Space Business Roundtable (MSBR) today, Cardin sounded themes that would have been familiar to Mikulski. He highlighted the number of jobs in Maryland due to space activities, saying that “if you’re a Senator from Maryland, you better pay attention to space. I get it.” He listed his priorities for NASA, all of which have a home at GSFC: Landsat 9; the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) earth science program; the Hubble, James Webb, and WFIRST space telescopes; the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) for planetary defense; and the RESTORE-L satellite servicing technology development program. He also expressed support for NOAA’s weather and space weather satellite programs and NASA’s heliophysics research satellite Solar Probe Plus.
Cardin does not serve on any of the Senate committees that deal with
space activities, but he is the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee and noted several times the importance of many of these programs to national security.
It was evident that he is still getting up to speed on space issues, but he became more impassioned as his remarks turned to related topics – climate change science, privatization, and restoring “regular order” to Congress to enable passage of timely, bipartisan government funding bills.
He is concerned about cuts proposed by the Trump Administration to basic science across the government, not only to programs at NASA like PACE, but also to the National Institutes of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency. He said he was at the March for Science in April and stressed the need for Congress to get input from scientists to make good science policy. His voice rising, he excoriated the politicization of climate change science asking why is it controversial when it is so important not only for the environment, not only for public health, but for national security and jobs. “For some reason this has become a wedge political issue in American politics. … Why would we want to deny you [scientists] the tools you need?”
Public private partnerships (PPPs) were another topic on which he has strong feelings. He supports PPPs, but worries they
lack public accountability. “We need to have public private partnerships, but … I want to make sure we have governmental oversight and accountability. When you privatize you lose that. … Government needs to maintain its role. We’re going to fight to do that.”
As for the budget, Cardin noted that Congress was able to work together on a bipartisan basis to finalize the FY2017 funding bill and argued that should be the model for future budget bills — except they should be done on time. Congress needs to return to “regular order” where bills go through the traditional process of hearings and markups and members “work together and not allow any extreme group in the Congress to control what happens.”
“The worst results for the space program in Maryland” and for the nation overall would be if no budget passed and a government
shutdown ensued, or a sequester went into effect, or there was a default on the debt, or the government had
to operate on Continuing Resolutions. A coordinated strategy is needed, he said, and he vowed to lead the Maryland congressional delegation to get a budget passed and advance the space program. Although he does not serve on the committees that oversee NASA or NOAA, Van Hollen is a member of the Senate Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee that funds both those agencies and Reps. Andy Harris and Dutch Ruppersberger are on the House Appropriations Committee (though not on its CJS subcommittee).
Cardin pointed out the considerable differences between what is in the FY2017 budget and what the Trump Administration proposed for FY2018 in its budget blueprint or “skinny budget” in March. With or without a coordinated strategy, therefore, it seems quite unlikely that Congress will be able to complete work on the FY2018 budget before October 1 when the fiscal year begins. The Trump Administration has not even submitted the detailed budget yet. The latest rumor is that will happen on May 23.
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