Housing, EPA cutbacks may boost space station Spending cap requires cuts for every increase; funding panel voting today.


WASHINGTON -- A Senate subcommittee has voted to fully fund the space station Freedom primarily at the expense of housing and environmental funds.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee's subcommittee overseeing funding for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, said this year's budget process is the most difficult she's ever had to face because of a spending cap imposed by last fall's budget agreement. The agreement requires that increased spending in one program means reduced spending in another program.

But Mikulski said she is confident the $80.9 billion spending bill strikes a balance among several "competing and worthwhile interests," including the controversial space station that is considered the centerpiece of NASA's manned space program. The subcommittee recommended giving $2.02 billion to Freedom in fiscal year 1992.

Besides space funding, the spending bill proposes budgets for the departments of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs as well as 21 other independent agencies.

Complete budget numbers won't be available until later today.

If the Senate approves the subcommittee's bill and its provisions are approved when the House and Senate negotiate their differences in conference committee, Maryland will receive $58 million for sewage treatment upgrades, $53.6 million for Community Development Block Grants and $2 billion for the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Mikulski's office said.

The Senate Appropriations Committee planned to vote on the bill today. The House already has approved its version of the legislation, giving $1.9 billion to the orbital laboratory.

Unlike the House, where lawmakers and space experts predicted incorrectly that the space station would lose its funding, the Senate has been extremely quiet about whether it favors the project. The subcommittee agreed yesterday to hold off on debate over the spending bill until the measure goes to the Senate floor.

The only dissension during the brief subcommittee meeting came from Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., who said he is skeptical of the space station's merits.

The House restored space-station funds by freezing NASA's budget at its current spending level and by using $250 million in subsidized housing funds.

In contrast, the Senate subcommittee is proposing taking "small bites" out of a number of items, Mikulski said. "I said we were not going to dynamite or pulverize any individual program," she said.

The subcommittee recommended:

* Fully funding veterans medical care at $13.5 billion, but cutting back on construction projects in the department. The total recommended appropriation for the department is $32.7 billion, $168 million less than the House suggested.

* Cutting all funding for NASA's Comet Rendezvous Asteroid Fly-by -- a proposed spacecraft that would follow and study comets -- saving about $112 million. The subcommittee also recommended cutting $50 million from a $336 million request for the Earth Observing System, a Goddard Space Flight Center project. Funding to the National Science Foundation is proposed to increase almost 14 percent to $2.6 billion. NASA funding is scheduled to increase from $13.8 billion to $14.3 billion.

* Rejecting many of the Environmental Protection Agency's requests for additional personnel by freezing Superfund at the fiscal year 1991 spending level. The agency's budget increases slightly from $6.1 billion to $6.6 billion.

* Taking about $600 million in HUD carry-over funds for housing for the elderly and using it for other purposes. HUD's recommended appropriation is $23.9 billion, $342 million under the House proposal.

* Capping space-station funding at $2.6 billion in the middle of the decade and allowing fiscal 1993 funding to exceed this year's level by no more than $250 million.

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