Sen. Nelson denies politicizing Columbia

Feb. 4, 2003 at 5:26 PM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 4 (UPI) -- Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., says he has no intention of injecting politics into the Columbia tragedy when he said the shuttle program was cash-starved.

Republican Gov. Jeb Bush has accused Nelson of manipulating numbers to show that NASA is underfunded.

"There have been increases in funding, but he wants to frame it in a way that makes it seem like there hasn't been," Bush said.

Bush, the younger brother of President George W. Bush, criticized politicians in general who have been commenting on the disaster.

"There's a proper role for first, in a dignified way, showing respect," Bush said. "I'm not the kind of person that wants to get out front it, it's not appropriate."

"Right now is the time to show our respect for incredible heroes, courageous men and women who take these risks knowingly, provide support and love for their loved ones and show solidarity with the employees," the Florida governor said.

A spokesman pointed out that Nelson has been complaining about underfunding for two years, saying "bean counters" have failed to fund adequate safety programs.

He accused them at a congressional hearing in 2001 of allowing memories of the Challenger disaster in 1986 to fade.

"Bill is not bringing politics into this," spokesman Dan McLaughlin said. "He's talking about a long-term starvation of NASA."

Nelson was critical of the Bush administration shortly after the Columbia broke apart Saturday, but he has conceded the Clinton administration shares some of the blame in more recent statements.

Nelson flew aboard Columbia in 1986 -- before the Challenger went down -- when he was a member of the House. He sits on the Senate's space-related committees.

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