Press Release

Florida Democratic Party: Straight Talk On McCain’s Failed NASA Record

By SpaceRef Editor
August 18, 2008
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Florida Democratic Party: Straight Talk On McCain’s Failed NASA Record

Additional Space Policy and Election 2008 News and Discussion

Pledges to Freeze Funding; Failed to Prevent Space Flight Gap

Tallahassee, FL – While John McCain is visiting Titusville today, holding a closed door meeting to talk about NASA issues, the Florida Democratic Party thought Floridians might appreciate some Straight Talk about John McCain’s failed record on space issues.

“How can the Space Coast trust John McCain when he has failed us so many other times? In the Senate, Chairman McCain was the one man that could have stood up to prevent the space flight gap and save thousands of Space Coast jobs, however, as is the case with so many other issues, McCain instead stood with President Bush. And to add insult to injury, McCain fought against NASA funding calling it pork barrel spending,” said Eric Jotkoff, Florida Democratic Party spokesman.

In response to the fact that McCain replicated George W. Bush’s policy of holding closed door meetings to prevent tough questions Jotkoff added, “While residents of the Space Coast were looking for an open dialogue about space policy, John McCain opted instead for a closed door meeting with hand picked people. Unfortunately, it is not surprising that McCain would take yet another page from the Bush-Rove playbook, since he is afraid to defend his failed record on NASA issues.” As Florida Today recognized, McCain’s “statements on space are a confusing and contradictory muddle, ranging from freezing NASA spending to extending the shuttle program.” [Florida Today, 8/1/2008]


McCain has a credibility gap on the 5-year year gap. Today, when he talks about keeping NASA employees in their jobs during the gap, it’s just a campaign promise. When he was the one person in the Senate who could have done something about the gap as Chairman of the Commerce Committee, he was silent.

  • At a hearing at which NASA Administrator O’Keefe testified, and that McCain, as Commerce Committee Chairman, chaired, multiple questions were raised about the 5-year gap.
  • When Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) specifically asked McCain what he would do to prevent the 5-year gap, McCain never even bothered to respond to the question. Sen. Nelson addressed Sen. McCain: “Mr. Chairman, space flight, you can’t do it on the cheap. And I just don’t think that a billion dollar increase over five years — that’s $200 million a year — is going to do it. And I would love for you to explain on the reprogramming of the $11 billion over that five years how you can do that. I think my other concern is I would not like to see repeated the period of time between 1975 and 1981 when we were down and not flying with humans. When Apollo Soyuz last flew and the space shuttle was supposed to fly three years later, it wasn’t until ’81, a total of six years that we were down. And my concern in what you’ve outlined and what the president outlined in the speech over at NASA headquarters is that you phase out the space shuttle by 2010 and then if we don’t fly this new vehicle until four, five, six years later, that means that our only human access to space is that we have to rely on Russian rockets and European rockets, and I don’t think that’s good for the country. And so, rather than having a hiatus, I would love to have you comment as to how we might have an overlap where we would keep the space shuttle flying until such time as the other vehicle is already tested and ready to fly.” [Sen. Bill Nelson at the Science and Transportation Committee, Senate Commerce Subcommittee, 1/28/04]
  • Former Sen. John Breaux questioned NASA’s O’Keefe on the gap that the President Bush’s plan would cause. Breaux said, “The second point I would ask about is the concern about the start/stop, stop/start, and the continuity of the work force. We now, as you know quite well in Michoud in New Orleans, have this huge facility with thousands of employees and my real concern as I look at the president’s plan that we’ll probably have as much as a five-year gap after the shuttle has completed its work and the time that we start with this new CEV vehicle that is now only in the very minute planning stages. What do we do to keep the continuity of the work force? I’m really concerned. These folks, if they lose the work, they’re gone. You have to restart, re-stop. How do we address that continuity of service that is so necessary to get what you need to accomplish?” [Sen. Breaux at the Science and Transportation Committee, Senate Commerce Subcommittee, 1/28/04]
  • O’Keefe acknowledged in front of McCain’s committee that the gap was a “critical factor”that needs to be addressed. O’Keefe’s response to Breaux: “It is a critical factor that we really need to work the details of that have got a few years out. That’s not to say we’re not going to start right now trying to sort through what those consequences are. At least the next four years, you’re looking at production of the external tank, et cetera, that are necessary to fly shuttle. There are a number of different options that will look at shuttle-derived approaches for lift capability for the Project Constellation exploration vehicle. That’s not yet determined and we’re looking for creative ideas from the industry to do that. I’m not convinced there’s going to be a gap or a hiatus there because, again, part of what is in the dialogue with Senator Nelson a little bit earlier, what we’re pursuing is an acquisition strategy of a spiral development of which the first spiral of the Project Constellation exploration vehicle unmanned will be launched as early as ’08 and a little bit later this decade.” [NASA Admin. O’Keefe at the Science and Transportation Committee, Senate Commerce Subcommittee, 1/28/04]

NASA Funding

McCain claims to support NASA’s mission but he has opposed or voted Against NASA Funding on numerous occasions, and his proposed ban on discretionary spending and earmarks that would gut NASA funding.

  • McCain expressed Concerns that increasing NASA funding would contribute to the national debt. Speaking on the Senate floor, McCain lamented: “Specifically, the Senate voted to add $1 billion on top of the $10 billion the bill already provided to NASA. I continue to support NASA and space research, but at what cost to our Nation’s children who will inherit the largest national debt this country has seen? Again, I would like to express my disappointment that Senate leadership has brought to the floor a bill that is $3 billion over the President’s request, containing more than 600 earmarks. In my recent travels around the Nation, I hear again and again from citizens who are fed up with porkbarrel spending, and yet Congress fails to listen. It is a shame and I can only hope that the American people will join me and the President in expressing their displeasure with this bill. I hope that the remaining six appropriations bills do not contain such rampant and reckless spending, and that Congress works to regain some fiscal discipline.” [Speech on Senate floor regarding The Senate Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, 2008, H.R. 3093, 10/16/07]
  • McCain voted against, Sens. Nelson and Martinez voted for, funding NASA and NOAA. McCain voted against passage of the bill that would appropriate $56 billion in fiscal 2008 for the departments of Commerce and Justice and other agencies such as NASA and the National Science Foundation. It would provide $24.3 billion for the Justice Department and $7.4 billion for the Commerce Department. It would appropriate $6.6 billion for the FBI and $5.6 billion for the federal prison system. The bill would fund NASA at $17.5 billion, the National Science Foundation at $6.6 billion and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at $4.2 billion. As amended, it would add $1 billion in emergency spending for NASA for costs associated with returning the space shuttle fleet to service after the loss of the Columbia in 2003. Sen. Obama missed the vote. [Vote 372, HR 3093, 10/16/07, Passed 75-19: R 28-19; D 45-0 (ND 40-0, SD 5-0); I 2-0.]
  • 1995: McCain voted to take funding from NASA research to fund education. McCain voted for an amendment to restore $63 billion in cuts from the education account by capping federal employee bonuses and by cutting the intelligent vehicle program, NASA research and development for commercial aircraft, new federal building construction and the executive branch air carrier fleet. (CQ) McCain: Y [1995 Senate Vote #185, 5/24/1995]
  • McCain’s economic plan is based upon a one-year freeze in discretionary spending that would hurt NASA. According to MSNBC’s First Read, “McCain spoke at Carnegie Mellon University here this morning and laid out his plan for the future of the economy.The plan is centered around a one-year freeze in discretionary spending — with the exception of military and veterans programs — to allow for a ‘top-to-bottom review of the effectiveness of federal programs.'” [NBC News, 4/15/08]. According to Florida Today, this freeze “means it would take longer and cost more to get the moon program rolling, providing the freeze didn’t lead to the project getting whacked — which it could.” [Florida Today, 6/13/08]
  • McCain said he would veto “every bill with earmarks,” but earmarks were the source of funding for the Mars mission. “The only power of government that could stop them was the power of veto, and it was rarely used. If that authority is entrusted to me, I will use the veto as needed, and as the Founders intended. I will veto every bill with earmarks, until the Congress stops sending bills with earmarks. I will seek a constitutionally valid line-item veto to end the practice once and for all.” [McCain Remarks Carnegie Mellon University, 4/15/08]

Recent earmarks for the Mars mission totaled more than $20 million.

2008 $1,645,000.00 in the FY2008 Commerce/State/Justice Appropriations Bill: Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, to develop a cost effective nuclear power system to support the long-range objectives of NASA for missions to the moon, to Mars and to deep space (NASA)[Citizens Against Government Waste ( Pigbooks, FY95-FY08]

2003 $19,000,000.00 In the FY2003 Veterans Affairs/Housing Appropriations Bill: Mars program to cover recent cost increases (NASA)[Citizens Against Government Waste ( Pigbooks, FY95-FY08]

  • The same McCain who voted against NASA funding sources then said that he would be willing to spend more taxpayer money on NASA. According to the Washington Post: “Sen. John McCain told Florida newspaper editors today that he thought it would be exciting to send a man to Mars… McCain said in response to a question from the editor of Florida Today, published on the state’s Space Coast, that he was worried about future funding of the space shuttle program and that he would be willing as president to be a champion for NASA. ‘Yes, I’d be willing to spend more taxpayers dollars,’ McCain said, adding he thought Americans respond to setting goals for specific projects. McCain said ever since reading Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, ‘I’m intrigued by a man on Mars. I think it would excite the imagination of the American people … Americans would be very willing to do that.'” [Washington Post, 6/5/08]

When it comes to space policy . . .

McCain’s pro-NASA statements are as weightless as an astronaut in space. His 180-degree shift regarding his NASA policy is, in the words of Florida Today, “downright schizophrenic.” [Florida Today, 6/13/08]

Obama ‘trumped’ McCain on space.’ A Florida Today editorial declared, “[Obama] trumped John McCain on space, saying he supports closing the five-year gap between the shuttle program’s end in 2010 and the start of the NASA’s Constellation project in 2015, and with it new spacecraft to take astronauts back to the moon.” [Florida Today Editorial, 8/3/08]

SpaceRef staff editor.