12/16/2015 | By: Stephen Koff, Cleveland Plain Dealer
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Despite a Maryland U.S. senator's desire to boost NASA spending in her state by taking it from elsewhere, the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland will be left alone, according to U.S. Sen. Rob Portman.
A tentative congressional agreement, unveiled late Tuesday night, still needs passage by the House and Senate. It also requires NASA to decide internally on how it will divvy up its budget among regional centers and projects.
But efforts by Portman, his Ohio colleague Sen. Sherrod Brown, and others in the Ohio delegation appear to have paid off. In short, congressional negotiators agreed to boost NASA's overall spending in a manner that could accommodate the competing demands.
"This was a hard-fought victory for the NASA Glenn Research Center and for the city of Cleveland," Portman said in a statement. He noted the center's roles in NASA's space mission -- it provides propulsion and aeronautics research and technology -- and added that it is "an economic driver for the local community and supports thousands of jobs."
If Congress agrees in final votes next week, NASA will get $19.3 billion overall in fiscal-year 2016. That's $1.3 billion more than Congress provided in 2015, and $756 million more than President Barack Obama requested in his 2016 budget, according to Brown's office.
Within NASA accounts shared by Glenn and other centers, Space Technology will get $686.5 million, a $91 million boost over 2015, Portman said. And Aeronautics will get $640 million, which is more than House and Senate appropriators envisioned when drafting tentative spending plans earlier this year.
Had that money not been provided, the proposed cuts would have meant "a huge threat to our regional economy," said Joe Roman, president and chief executive of the Greater Cleveland Partnership, the region's chamber of commerce. He said Portman and his colleagues "stepped up and led the effort to push back on the proposed cuts and to position NASA Glenn for a successful future. This is a big win for Cleveland and all of Northeast Ohio."
The threatened cut came about when a Senate appropriations subcommittee wanted to transfer $150 million from an agency division that funds the Cleveland center and use it to pay for a Maryland-based robotic mission to refuel long-orbiting satellites that otherwise might have to be shut off. The center for satellites is based at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, the top Democrat on the appropriations panel, made this a priority. While Mikulski's party is not the party in power, she has seniority and influence, and the fact that she is retiring next year after 30 years in Congress gave her preferences an extra dose of sway.
Not all of the $150 million would have come from the Glenn center, whose work includes technologies to thrust exploratory craft deeper into space, but tens of millions could have. Authorities in the Cleveland area feared cuts could exceed $60 million, or roughly 10 percent of the Cleveland center's $581 million 2015 budget.
But under the negotiated deal, a larger NASA budget will make it possible to pay for all or most of these programs, lawmakers said. The Maryland program, called Restore-L, will get $133 million instead of $150 million, Brown's and Portman's offices said.
"We fought very, very hard to ensure that while Sen. Mikulski might get some funding for her project in Maryland, it doesn't affect us," Portman told cleveland.com in a telephone interview.
Negotiators Tuesday night also agreed to extend a number of expiring tax credits and breaks in a related bill. Budget hawks could protest the new spending levels and the tax provisions but are unlikely to sway enough colleagues to block the deal's passage.
Portman said he feels "pretty confident" that even if there is a filibuster attempt, "it will not be successful."