WASHINGTON- House Republicans beat back a Democratic challenge Tuesday to Majority Leader Tom DeLay, defeating an effort to cut $200 million from NASA's Moon-Mars initiative and spend the money instead to aid local police.
By a 230-196 vote, the House rejected an amendment by Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., to transfer $200 million from the space agency to two Clinton-era grant programs that President Bush wants to phase out.
The Justice Department programs are favorites of lawmakers because they provide help for local initiatives to combat methamphetamine, fund anti-gang programs and provide new equipment to hometown police departments.
DeLay's Houston district is home to the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. After a House subcommittee last year slashed NASA's budget by $1 billion, DeLay forced negotiators to restore the money, then set about abolishing the subcommittee and spreading its jurisdiction over NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency, housing and veterans' programs among other panels.
"Mr. DeLay didn't like that arrangement, so he abolished that subcommittee," Obey, the House Appropriations Committee's senior Democrat, said Tuesday.
Obey said any potential mission to Mars is decades away. Helping local law enforcement agencies is a more pressing need, he said.
DeLay countered that NASA research had produced many technological breakthroughs that led to magnetic resonance imaging, portable X-ray machines and satellites.
"What future technological breakthroughs will we miss out on in the next 40 years if we start cutting back on NASA now?" DeLay asked.
For his part, Bush proposed eliminating $1.5 billion in Justice Department programs, mostly grants programs for state and local law enforcement agencies, saying they are ineffective and a lower priority than counterterrorism grants and reducing the deficit. The underlying bill would restore all but $406 million of the Bush-proposed cuts.
The bill provides NASA with all the $16.5 billion Bush requested, an almost 2 percent increase over this year.
The imbroglio last year over the NASA budget was a major reason why DeLay insisted upon a significant overhaul of the Appropriations Committee earlier this year. Incoming Chairman Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., who won his post with help from DeLay, eliminated the subcommittee responsible for NASA's budget and scattered its responsibilities among other panels.
In a victory for states bordering Mexico, lawmakers approved by a 231-195 vote an amendment to add $50 million _ a 14 percent boost _ to a Justice Department program that reimburses states for the jail costs of undocumented immigrants that break state and local laws. The victory came at the expense of coastal state supporters of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, whose budget was cut to pay for the increase.
The underlying spending bill contains $57.5 billion in funding within Congress' control for NASA and the Commerce, Justice and State departments.
The bill cuts Bush's request for the State Department by $251 million to $9 billion as part of lawmakers' moves to trim his requests for defense and foreign aid-related spending to restore Bush-proposed cuts in domestic programs.
The FBI would receive a 10 percent budget increase, to $5.7 billion.