It’s not that we’re skeptical about President Bush’s plans for space. It’s just that, for a guy who can spend a billion dollars like it’s nothing, it’s unusual this plan is so long on ambition while so skimpy on budget.
(Amidst the hoopla, Bush only proposed $1billion in new spending. The other $11 billion is supposed to come from “reprogramming” –i.e. cannibalizing–NASA’s existing budget.)
The Administration could have chosen to go for the moon base or the Mars mission. Given the President’s grandiosity and sense of entitlement, however, he picked both. (Or, Cheney did.) In term of cost, however, they aren’t budgeting for either. And, for some reason, they are being almost too obvious about it.
Of course, Bush needs window dressing for the campaign. Being a man who lacks vision, he also needed some wing-ding idea to pitch for a possible second term (even if he did end up overcompensating). In an administration for which money has been no object, however, the obvious penny-pinching is a little curious–considering how calculated and media savvy this outfit is.
What the White House is telegraphing in this announcement, I believe, is their recognition that we’ve had quite a party the last three years. With the Congress about to reconvene and many congressional Republicans squirming over the Bush “live for today” spending philosophy, Rove and Company recognized the need to get in front of the issue before their constituents or, heaven forbid, the Democrats had a chance to. Having created one of the most cataclysmic financial holes in the history of earth, the first phase of the mission is to make a demonstration of the fact that budgets are taken seriously.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the White House has to stop promising the Moon. It just means they have to lose the “money is no object” attitude. So, how do they reconcile the difference?
The answer is “creative accounting,”(which is easy when the press fails to ask hard questions in the face of obvious financial mumbo-jumbo). They will probably deal with the rest of it, however, just by making a show of fiscal responsibility.
After all, they only have to get though next November. After that, the economy starts becoming somebody else’s problem.