Wednesday, September 14, 2011

JWST News Update: Senate Appropriations Committee Vote

Greetings Science Warriors:

Good News for the JWST!
Earlier today (Wednesday September 14, 2011) the US Senate Appropriations Committee, including the Subcommittee concerning Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies met to hash out the details of the FY2012 bill. A few of those details include a small victory for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) today! The Senate Subcommittee has voted to include $530 million for the JWST in 2012. This represents a larger amount than the Obama Administration proposed, which totaled $374 million. This is a significant positive outcome for the JWST. However, we are not out of the woods just yet. Read below more details.

The Effects of a Two-Chambered Legislature
So, didn't we just do this kind of vote two months ago and lose? If you are confused, you're not alone; we were too! Here is some background on how the process works: The US Congress is divided into two halves: the House of Representatives and the Senate. When building a bill, in order to make it law, each half of Congress negotiates the details of a bill in special committees dedicated to specific tasks and subjects. In July, the US House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies voted NOT to include funding for the JWST when building thier version of the FY 2012 bill. That's when most of us got motivated. Today, the US Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies sat down to discuss the details of their version of the FY 2012 bill. The Senate Subcommittee decided to "mark-up" (which means amend the bill, a normal process for any bill) so that NASA receives $17.9 Billion, which is only $509 Million less than NASA budget last year. This proposed NASA budget "provides funds to enable a 2018 launch of the James Webb Space Telescope" (from the Senate Subcommitte Summary for thier version of FY 2012), with a proposed 2012 JWST budget of $530 million.

This differs from what the US House proposed NASA should receive: Overall, only $16.8 billion and JWST, specifically, $0. Check out this Space Politics article for an excellent summary of the changes the US House Subcommittee proposed for NASA in FY 2012. With regard to funding for NASA and funding for the JWST, the House and the Senate disagree with each other. Now, they will have to compromise.

We expect the bill to go to the full Senate for a floor vote soon. When it passes, and it may be amended before it does, it will be presented for a full House vote. There, both the House and Senate will have to compromise on the details of the FY 2012 budget. Finally, it moves to the President's desk to be signed into law. When might it reach the full House floor for a vote? Perhaps sometime in October is our best guess. The timeline for a bill can change at a moments notice. And rest assured we will be keeping up with that timeline.

More Battles Yet to Come
SaveJWST wants to offer a big hearty "Thank You" to all of you who signed the petition, who interacted with the facebook page, and especially those of you who made your voices heard with the US Congress. We can't be sure of how much our presence and grassroots activity impacted the Senators in the US Senate Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies today. Regardless, we are thrilled that members of the Senate have thrown their support behind NASA and JWST.

Today is a victory, Science Warriors. We should cheer for this day. However, we still have battles yet to fight. JWST is not entirely safe yet, so please continue to gather supporters and spread the message. We need more signatures for a louder collective voice. We need more emails and phone calls pouring into Congress. We will keep you updated on the progress of this magnificent telescope: The Hubble of the Next Generation. The fight for flight continues!



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