Mikulski's Support for Obama NASA Revamp Still in Doubt
By Paul West
Apr 14, 2010 | 8:49 AM
Earth to Obama: If you want Barbara Mikulski's support for your latest NASA plan, take her to Europe this weekend.
On Sunday, President Barack Obama will lead the U.S. delegation to services in Krakow for the state funeral of President Lech Kaczynski and First Lady Maria Kaczynska. The Polish leader was killed in last weekend's plane crash that took the lives of all 96 on board.
Mikulski, granddaughter of Polish immigrants, is one of America's leading elected officials of Polish descent. That makes her an obvious pick to join the U.S. delegation at the funeral.
As it happens, the quickest and most prestigious way to get to Poland is aboard Air Force One, which will be leaving Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Maryland on Saturday evening.
No public word yet on whether the Democratic senator is invited, but giving her a coveted seat should be a no-brainer.
The perk would put her in Obama's debt. And the flight over and back might give the president a chance to do some gentle persuasion on a nettlesome problem--overcoming congressional opposition to his effort to reshape the U.S. manned space program.
On Thursday, Obama will unveil version 2.0 of his spaceflight plan. The venue: the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where thousands of jobs will disappear when the Space Shuttle program ends later this year.
Obama's 2011 budget called for canceling the current moon program, known as Constellation, to send U.S. astronauts back to the lunar surface. The proposal drew bipartisan opposition from members of Congress, many from states that feared job losses as a result.
One powerful lawmaker has remained effectively noncommittal for months: Maryland's Mikulski, who chairs the Senate committee that funds NASA and has taken a wait-and-see attitude as she studies the matter.
White House officials briefed reporters and members of Congress this week on a revised Obama plan: a timetable to decide by 2015 on the design of a new, heavy lift rocket for future deep space exploration and, possibly, a return to the Moon.
In addition, Obama appears to have bent slightly on his decision to kill Constellation by proposing a more streamlined version of the Orion space capsule that was part of the Constellation program.
Obama Manned Space 2.0 will create 10,000 jobs, an official told reporters late Tuesday, including 2,500 in Florida, an important swing state in presidential elections that Obama took back for the Democrats in 2008.
NASA's No. 2 official, Lori Garver, is said to have privately expressed confidence that the House Appropriations Committee will go along with Obama's latest plan. But the NASA brass still doesn't know whether Mikulski will support it.
By itself, putting her on the president jet might not get her on board the NASA initiative. But it couldn't hurt.