The House Appropriations Committee yesterday upheld its space subcommittee's cuts in 1991 funds for President Bush's top-priority Moon-Mars mission but gave the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) a 17 percent increase for the next fiscal year.

The $14.3 billion figure makes NASA one of the fastest growing agencies in government. Its budget was approved as part of an $83.8 billion spending bill that also funds veterans, housing, and environmental protection.

Addressing workers at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., June 20, Bush attacked the space appropriations subcommittee for "pulling the plug" on the Moon-Mars mission. The subcommittee's action in trimming $300 million in research funds for the long-term project showed that "not everyone on Capitol Hill shares this commitment to investing in America's future," Bush said.

But when the spending bill reached the committee yesterday, bipartisan support emerged for delaying Moon-Mars funding. When Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) asked if the subcommittee was "prejudicing itself against Moon-Mars," there were groans and cries of "No, no."

"We didn't have the money," said Rep. Bob Traxler (D-Mich.), who chairs the subcommittee that writes the NASA spending bill. Traxler said the space station, shuttle improvements, and Earth Observing System (EOS) all have higher priority on NASA's own list, and received big spending increases.

Regional differences play a role in the unfolding politics of NASA funding. Lawmakers from the big space states see Moon-Mars research funds as the opening of a new tap. But Rep. Bill Green (N.Y.), ranking Republican on Traxler's subcommittee, warned of escalating future costs and called EOS the space agency's "most important" mission.

Sources cautioned that 1991 funding for Moon-Mars still might materialize, possibly through a gimmick involving NASA charges to the Defense Department for space launches.

Included in the House proposal for NASA is $485 million for new construction, including facilities for EOS at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Lobbying by contractors and others apparently smoothed the way for a $114 million appropriation for the national aerospace plane, which ran into difficulties in the committee last year.

The space station, which will begin moving from paper to hardware in 1991, was awarded $2.25 billion in the bill. But the committee capped the spending at $750 million to force designers to meets a series of requirements, such as a fully equipped microgravity laboratory for testing materials. That provision reportedly reflects concern that the United States could fall behind Japan and the Soviet Union in this research.

Elsewhere in the bill, new Democratic priorities leave a strong imprint. Most dramatic is a $4.2 billion increase over the current year for housing assistance, the biggest boost in a decade.

"It won't get you any PAC {political action committee} money, but it'll get you brownie points with St. Peter," Traxler told the panel.

The committee also added $100 million to the Bush budget for veterans' medical care and $48 million for asbestos removal in schools.

Also on the receiving end of the bill is Traxler's home state of Michigan, to which the subcommittee chairman channeled half a dozen specially earmarked federal projects, including $1 million for site acquisition for a new Environmental Protection Agency ecology center in Bay City, Mich., in Traxler's congressional district. Staff writers Kathy Sawyer and Gwen Ifill contributed to this report.