Monday, April 09, 2007

The Murtha visit...

In politics, progress is made one step at a time - and often in baby steps.

Last year, Congress authorized the construction of two submarines a year beginning in Fiscal Year 2009. But it didn't allocate the money to actually do it.

Currently, the Navy's shipbuilding schedule calls for two subs a year beginning in 2012 - and is reluctant to commit to any earlier timetable because there are no guarantees that the future funding to finish the job will be there. Right now, it cost about $2.5 billion to build one sub. The Navy is not opposed to building two, but it wants the cost down to $2 billion each. EB claims that if it can get up to two-per-year, it can lower the cost and reach that goal.

But money right now is the big problem. The War in Iraq is eating away at the Defense Department budget.

Which makes the visit today of Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha to Electric Boat that much more interesting. Murtha, an outspoken opponent of the Iraq War, is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Defense. It is that subcommittee that will actually write the Defense Appropriations Bill for Fiscal year 2008. There's a move in Congress to increase the Navy's shipbuilding account which the president has budgeted for seven new ships next year - including one new Virginia-class sub. Some in Congress, including 2nd District Congressman Joe Courtney, are lobbying to add money so that 12 new ships will be built - including a second submarine.

Murtha's visit to southeastern Connecticut, the Submarine Capitol of the World, is an indication of his support for that effort. What we're talking about is an extra $400 million for the advance procurment - with the rest of the funding allocated in the following year.

It would be a significant accomplishment for the freshman congressman from eastern Connecticut if that extra funding is included in the budget, and it wins House approval.

It is not, however, the end of the debate. It would still require Senate approval, and that same sense of urgency that exists in the House doesn't appear to be as strong in the Senate.

But Murtha does have some influence. It will be interesting to watch how this all plays out - but I think it's safe to say that a significant step forward is being taken today just by having him visit. No one can talk about the work being done at EB better than those who are doing that work - and Murtha will no doubt get an earful during his visit today.


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