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House approves space, law enforcement funds

The U.S. House of Representatives Thursday passed legislation funding programs as wide-reaching as the exploration of Mars down to police searches of crime suspects' homes on Earth.
/ Source: Reuters

The U.S. House of Representatives Thursday passed legislation funding programs as wide-reaching as the exploration of Mars down to police searches of crime suspects' homes on Earth.

The nearly $60 billion approved by the House on a vote of 393-23 would fund NASA space exploration, domestic law enforcement, State Department activities abroad and other federal agencies in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

Senate debate of a similar bill could come this summer.

The legislation contains some important foreign policy implications by prohibiting diplomatic ties with Libya, which the Bush administration is pursuing, until Tripoli makes final payments to families of victims of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

The bill also would prevent the establishment of permanent military bases in Iraq and would ease some restrictions on communications between the U.S. government and Taiwan, a move that Beijing could see as challenge to the "one-China policy."

NASA, which hopes to launch a space shuttle flight on Saturday, would get a boost in funding for fiscal 2007 to fully fund the troubled shuttle program as well as President Bush's initiative to explore the moon and Mars.

The House defeated moves to put on hold or pare back the moon-Mars mission, despite many lawmakers' complaints about insufficient funds for local law enforcement, ocean protection and other domestic priorities.

"Sending human beings to Mars is in my judgment at best a luxury that this country cannot afford," said Rep. Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat, referring to a $3.8 billion space exploration price tag next year.

But the House supported Bush's drive to return humans to the moon by 2020 and eventually send them to Mars. While backers boasted it would help America maintain its status as a "nation of pioneers," many of those lawmakers also like the jobs created in their home districts by space programs.

Closer to home, the House also defeated moves to curtail police powers in medical marijuana cases, terrorism investigations and other more routine searches of houses.

A perennial move to stop prosecutions of terminally and other seriously ill patients who use marijuana to ease their suffering, in states that allow it, gained some ground but was still rejected by 259-163.

Rep. Tom Latham, an Iowa Republican, called marijuana a "gateway drug for heroin use."

As the debate became increasingly emotional, Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee said, "If I am terminally ill, it isn't anybody's business on this floor how I handle the pain or sickness associated with this illness. Butt out!" Obey then referred to opponents as "Lilliputians."

The House also defeated an attempt to effectively overturn this month's Supreme Court decision allowing the use of evidence against suspects even when police enter a suspect's home illegally by failing to knock on the door and announce their presence.

But gun manufacturers won a favor from the House when it voted to overturn a recently enacted law requiring safety trigger locks on all hand guns sold in the United States.