By Patricia Liever, staff editor Following their recent midterm victories, Republicans would like us to think they’ve been sent to Washington with a clear mandate: cut the deficit. First on the chopping block will likely be the “easiest” cuts to make – reductions that affect small pockets of America while protecting the reelection hopes for the majority of Congress.
The 112th Congress will make difficult decisions every day – and they will do it all in one of the most polarized environments that many of us can remember. Rather than make big cuts with costs that will be broadly felt by all Americans, members of Congress can likely be counted on to make the smallest, most politically safe reductions in federal spending.
One of the likely victims of this effort is going to be the cancellation of NASA’s Constellation program and a reduction in funding for the nation’s space program. I fully agree with many critics of NASA that the agency needs some serious reform. But beyond space, NASA is one of the primary vehicles of publicly funded research and development in this country. Many of the technologies the agency has developed have proven to be invaluable here on earth, including GPS, improved fire fighting gear, cordless tools, and several medical technologies that have saved lives (not to mention Dustbusters and flat panel televisions).
As someone who has recently lived and worked on Florida’s Space Coast – an area where NASA signs most people’s paychecks – I have seen firsthand the reality of “easy” budget cuts in the lives of the people affected. Already nearly 8,000 people have lost their jobs, with thousands more job losses projected in the wake of the Constellation program. The cities and towns that developed around Kennedy Space Center are becoming more deserted with each budgetary decision.
There are no easy cuts. Republicans will find acting upon their mandate a much more difficult task than their rhetoric seems to imply. The representatives from Florida are working hard in Washington to protect these jobs, but their voices will likely be drowned out by the majority of representatives whose constituents won’t punish them at the polls for cutting NASA in the sacred process of reducing the deficit.