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NSRC 2020

 
Bush at NASA
A second term gives Bush the opportunity to continue to push the Vision for Space Exploration, but will other issues give him the chance to spend his “political capital” on space? (credit: White House)

Back to Iraq, but what about the Moon?

With the support of just over half of voting America, George W. Bush has emerged from his re-election claiming he has “the will of the people behind me.” While the slim majority of the vote might not signal a mandate to some, it is clear that Bush/Cheney will continue their right-wing agenda, unencumbered by significant opposition.

At his first post-election news conference, Bush indicated he was on a mission. “I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it.” His stated agenda continues the war against terrorism, additional tax cuts, and changing Social Security.

But space? It’s unclear that his announced space plan will figure prominently in that expenditure of political capital, and problematic that Congress will readily back it. The basic problem is that space will do little to further to enhance the opportunity the Right sees in this victory; indeed, the space plan may serve to diminish it.

It’s unclear that his announced space plan will figure prominently in that expenditure of political capital, and problematic that Congress will readily back it.

On one hand, the Administration will clearly be emboldened in a second, final term. As in the first, we can expect the administration to answer to only the half of the country who supports it. “The campaign over, Americans are expecting a bipartisan effort and results. I’ll reach out to everyone who shares our goals,” Bush said, in a statement some consider doublespeak. Echoing the sentiment that Republicans could ignore dissenting voices, House majority leader Tom DeLay said, “With a bigger majority, we can do even more exciting things.”

However, the Republicans will not be eager to raise controversy over spending while consolidating their gains. For one thing, it is likely that Republicans will next be working to get a 60-seat majority in the Senate so that conservative nominations for Supreme Court justices and other key posts will face limited opposition in the Senate. Controversy over spending on space could hinder them in obtaining the five seats to do so in the 2006 mid-term elections.

According to conservative Republican Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana, “Restoring luster to our reputation as fiscal conservatives will be a very high priority for the Republican majority,” including “moving toward a balanced budget.” With the US budget now running at hundreds of billions in the red annually, with a total additional debt projected to be several trillion by the end of the decade, increased spending on a space effort for which Americans may have only lukewarm support could become a lightning rod for fiscal controversy.

Add to this Bush’s war in Iraq, which will easily surpass a cost of $200 billion this year and has no end in sight. Given the stated and demonstrated Bush/Cheney policy to invade countries “preemptively,” there looms the potential for other costly and dangerous military action against Iran and/or North Korea as well. Wartime budget pressures will likely make even the relatively modest increases needed to fund the Bush space plan untenable.

One factor that should not be underestimated is George W. Bush’s will to out-do his former-president dad, George H.W. Bush, a factor demonstrated by his eagerness to return to Iraq, this time to stay. Returning to the Moon, this time to stay, may represent a similar victory over Bush Sr.

For the nascent private space projects, a second Bush term and a Congress with strengthened Republican majorities is probably a good thing.

While it’s clear that Bush has had nowhere near the jones for space that he has for Iraq, it may well suffice for him to know that his space policy went somewhere, whereas his father’s did not. However, the real glamour and payoffs of the new program, if enacted, would not show up until well after Bush’s second term. Other achievements, particularly securing Republican political dominance, would have more bang for the buck of Bush’s political capital.

For the nascent private space projects, a second Bush term and a Congress with strengthened Republican majorities is probably a good thing. Bush’s pledge to “reform the tax code” means there is the potential for yet another tax break, with an even larger percentage of the reduced tax burden removed from the wealthiest. This should bode well for the millionaires and billionaires who are funding nascent space projects out of their own pockets, as well as those who will use their services.

It is one thing for space supporters to be excited with the idea of returning humans to the Moon and setting up the foundations for deeper solar system exploration. It is another for an administration and a party with so much on their ideological plate to support it.


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