NASA's Fiscal Year 2011 budget began last October. Due to a quirk in the U.S. Constitution, the money for the budget must be appropriated in a separate bill by Congress. Until that happens, Congress passes a "continuing resolution" (CR) to keep the government in operation, essentially extending the prior year's budget, sometimes with targeted additions or cuts.
NASA is currently operating under a CR that will expire March 4. If no new CR is passed by then, theoretically the government could "shut down," although what really happens will be determined agency by agency. NASA's routine administrative activities might close, but STS-133 would still be on orbit and of course so would the International Space Station, so presumably critical employees associated with those missions would continue to work — without pay?! It remains to be seen.
The House of Representatives early Saturday passed a CR (H.R. Bill 1) that if enacted would cut about $600 million from NASA's approved budget. SpacePolicyOnline.com provides this analysis:
The appropriations committee already had cut NASA $303 million below its FY2010 appropriated level. With the $298 million cut in the Weiner amendment, NASA would be cut $601 million from its FY2010 appropriation, giving the agency a total of $18.123 billion for FY2011. Compared with President Obama's request of $19.000 billion for NASA in FY2011, it is a $877 million reduction.
The article states that the Weiner amendment funds were "taken from Cross Agency Support, which funds Center Management and Operations, Agency Management and Operations, and Institutional Investments."
It's unclear whether this will pass. The Democratic majority in the Senate seems inclined to oppose cuts elsewhere in H.R. 1, and the Obama administration might veto it.
If it did pass as written, the cuts would be more draconian because nearly half the budget year has already passed. Here's the math ... Let's say your budget for a year is $1,000. You cut that budget by $300, but you make that decision halfway through your budget year, so you've already spent $500 of that $1,000. That means you'd have to cut $300 from the remaining $500, leaving only $200 to cover the last six months.
If all this isn't wonky enough for you, you might enjoy a Congressional Research Service study of past government shutdowns.
UPDATE February 22, 2011 — This morning's Florida Today reports that Space Coast congressional representatives Bill Posey (R-Rockledge) and Sandy Adams (R-Orlando) voted to support H.R. 1.
The article quotes Posey as saying:
Why would anyone want to yield the ultimate military high ground, which is space, to countries which in the very best of times are not friendly of us?
Posey failed to name just who these countries are, or provide evidence that anyone is "yielding" space to them.
Apparently Posey is also unaware that, by law, military space spending is in the Defense Department budget, not the NASA budget.
The National Aeronautics and Space Act, NASA's founding charter, states:
... [A]ctivities peculiar to or primarily associated with the development of weapons systems, military operations, or the defense of the United States (including the research and development necessary to make effective provision for the defense of the United States) shall be the responsibility of, and shall be directed by, the Department of Defense ...