While space billionaires like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos routinely find themselves squaring off in what’s become this generation’s space race, there’s one US senator who’s keen on keeping their intergalactic exploration tethered to this stratosphere, or at least ensuring that it’s not financed at the American taxpayers ‘expense.
Sen Bernie Sanders, who’s public scorn of billionaires has become a staple of his policies addressing wealth distribution and reining in corporate influence, continued to champion this cause Wednesday night during a speech on the House floor where he criticized a spending bill that includes a provision to send $10 billion to NASA for private contractors, like Bezos’s Blue Origin or Musk’s SpaceX, to land on the moon.
“Count me in as someone who doesn’t think that the taxpayers of this country need to provide Mr Bezos a $10 billion bailout to fuel his space hobby,” the Vermont Independent began in his 22-minute address on the Senate floor.
Mr Sanders, who threatens to stall the legislation set up to strengthen America’s technological edge over foreign competitors, has for months characterized the bill’s moon lander provision as “subsidising” Mr Bezos “space travel”.
The pending United States Innovation and Competition Act of 2021 has passed in both the House and the Senate and now awaits to be finalized with an arranged committee.
Though he’s been railing against the provision for months, the 80-year-old senator took to relying on a more theatrical approach in his latest speech on the Senate floor.
“Let me be very clear, Mr Bezos has enough money to buy a very beautiful $500m yacht,” the Vermont senator said while having an aid prop up a large blown up picture of Mr Bezos’s yacht alongside a picture of the former Amazon CEO’s smiling face. “Looks very nice to me, not that I know very much about yachts.”
He then had his help swap out the picture of the billionaire’s yacht for another board, but this time it showcased Mr Bezos’s Washington, DC mansion.
“Mr Bezos has enough money to purchase a $23m mansion with 25 bathrooms,” he said, before quipping that he’s “not quite sure you need 25 bathrooms but that’s not my business”.
The provision that would allot $1billion to the space agency would not guarantee that those funds were funnelled to Mr Bezos’s Blue Origin, as NASA would have the discretion to divide those funds up between multiple companies, depending on who the winner of the public-private moon lander contract is.
Politician also reported that the winner of that partnership is also expected to contribute a portion of their own money to the contract.
For Mr Sanders, however, he views the provision as a failure of industrial policy in America, noting that the fact that tech billionaires who made their fortunes while largely avoiding paying federal income tax – “[Amazon] pays nothing, zero in federal income taxes after making billions in profits” – are able to benefit from “bailouts” points to a systemic problem.
Industrial policy, the Vermont Independent explained, is about cooperation, not “the government providing massive amounts of corporate welfare to extremely profitable corporations without getting anything in return.”
“That is corporate welfare… that is crony capitalism.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.