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Just before I voted against funding for the space station, I heard the argument "under no circumstances should the United States abandon the space station." This argument conflicts heavily with the recent outcry from many of my constituents to cut spending first. In the same sentence I heard, "Yes, the nation needs to tighten its belt. But good sense calls for spending tax dollars on projects that serve national interests."

Does it make good sense to spend tax dollars that we do not have on these projects? There are powerful arguments for many worthwhile projects in the federal budget. Doesn't it make good sense to spend tax dollars on Social Security for the elderly, for education for our children, for law enforcement, for national defense?All of these programs compete for the same tax dollar with the space station and all the other worthwhile projects. The question should not be whether the space station is in the national interest, because certainly it is. The more appropriate question is whether we the taxpayers are willing to pay for the space station.

The total estimated cost of building, launching and putting the space station into operation is $47 billion. And that is for the less expensive redesigned model and assuming it will come in under budget. If we were to raise taxes to pay for the space station, it would require the equivalent of a 9 cent per gallon gasoline tax for the next five years, or a 3 percent tax rate increase on corporations. Is the public willing to pay higher taxes to build the space station?

The era of "borrow and spend" is past. The only way to balance the federal budget is to make large spending cuts or large tax increases. Large spending cuts will include eliminating popular programs that are arguably in the national interest like the space station.

We, the people, oftentimes disagree on what is in the national interest and the priorities of spending tax dollars. However, there is one resounding message to Washington from my constituents and most of the nation: "Cut federal spending and don't raise taxes."

One result of carrying out that mandate is my vote to eliminate funding for the space station. If it's not worth the price tag of higher taxes today to pay for it, we shouldn't build it.

Funding the space station may give us something to cheer about, and may produce tangible, scientific insults that will benefit future generations. Let's hope so, because they will end up paying for it. Rather than borrowing money from our grandchildren to spend on our programs, shouldn't they be able to decide for themselves what is worth the price tag?

Bill Orton

Member of Congress