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Does the Tea Party Support NASA Spending?

Astronauts on future moon mission
Astronauts on future moon mission
NASA

Mustafa Tameez, in a February 14, 2014 story in the Houston Chronicle, has a lot of fun at what he thinks is the Tea Party’s expense. Rep. Steve Stockman, a Republican, is abandoning his safe House seat for a quixotic primary assault against Sen. John Cornyn, the Republican senior senator from Texas. That leaves his district, which includes a great many NASA workers, up for grabs. This is where the fun starts.

“It’s almost a given that with the demographic patterns at play and the district’s voter profile, that whoever wins the Republican primary will win the general election in November. Essentially, whoever wins the Republican primary is going to be tasked with advocating for NASA.

“Did you hear that Tea Party voters? Whoever wins the Republican primary will need to represent NASA and that means fighting for the programs, and yes, spending, that sustain it.

“This will put the more fiscally adamant members of the Tea Party wing of Republican primary voters in the uncomfortable position of having to cut their own throats – or those of their neighbors – to maintain the ideological purity of their fiscal positions. In other words, you can’t whole-heartedly condemn government spending when a large chunk of your district is dependent on it for survival.”

Tameez, like a lot of liberal writers, suffers from a stereotype of the Tea Party. When they are not being racist/sexist/homophobic, they are hell bent on cutting government spending indiscriminately. However, most Tea Party people have a more nuanced view of government spending. There is a lot of waste, fraud, and abuse in the federal budget that needs expunging. But there is some spending, like the military and law enforcement, which are good things.

Whether the Tea Party considers NASA part of that needed spending depends on who one asks. There is a small group calling itself “Tea Party in Space” that wants to end a lot of NASA’s programs, like the Space Launch System, and use the space agency as a conduit for subsidies for private commercial companies.

On the other hand, a lot of Tea Party supporters, especially in states like Texas and Florida, support NASA space exploration. Indeed when President Obama cancelled the Constellation space exploration program. Tea Party people were out in force to protest the move, in both Texas and in Florida. Add to that the ultimate Tea Party politician, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas is a warm supporter of both NASA and commercial space endeavors.

Thus, for most of the Tea Party, there is no contradiction between a small government and a robust space program. Indeed, spending money on wasteful programs means that it is not available for things like exploring the high frontier of space.