The new defense bill provides money for 79 F-35s with Pratt & Whitney engines. Lockheed Martin photo
The F-35A Joint Strike Fighter Lockheed Martin photo

Washington – Connecticut’s defense industry is a big winner in a new budget deal that will keep the federal government running through September. It allows the Pentagon to increase the number of F-35 fighters and nearly double the number of Sikorsky Black Hawks it purchases this year.

The massive spending bill also contains $5 million for New London’s National Coast Guard Museum, and increases National Institutes of Health grant money that is key to research at the state’s universities.

“This is really a very positive outcome,” said Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District.

The bipartisan negotiations, for example, allowed Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Appropriation Committee, to secure $5 million for the Coast Guard Museum.

“This first wave of federal support will enable the Coast Guard to put its 225 years of history on display in New London soon,” Murphy said.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said the budget compromise “was the best we could have hoped to achieve.” He also said federal funding of the Coast Guard museum will attract private donors to the project.

 The need to approve a federal budget bill to avert a government shutdown, gave congressional Democrats leverage. Funding for the federal government was to run out at midnight last Friday, but the House and Senate voted overwhelmingly on Friday for a stopgap bill that extended funding for another week.

Negotiations with Democrats has resulted in elimination of several of President Donald Trump’s priorities – including money for a border wall between the United States and Mexico and language that would have expanded the ability of the federal government to take away grants from “sanctuary” cities and states that do not fully cooperate with federal authorities on immigration issues.

Negotiators also rejected GOP demands to defund Planned Parenthood and left funding for the Environmental Protection Agency nearly intact. It also slightly boosted, by $81 million, funding for national parks, which will help keep the Coltsville National Historical Park in Hartford on track.

Trump had requested $30 billion in additional defense money, but congressional negotiators increased the Pentagon’s budget by only $15 billion.

Still, the impact of increased military spending will be felt in Connecticut.

“On the defense side, we hit all of our targets,” said Courtney, a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the budget was “a win for domestic programs and a hugely important bill for defense program sin Connecticut.”

The omnibus bill would increase the number of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters purchased by the Pentagon this year from 66 to 74, at a cost of $8.1 billion. Pratt & Whitney makes the engine that powers the F-35.

The bipartisan spending bill also provides $1.2 billion for 62 Sikorsky-made Black Hawk helicopters, a sizable increase from the 36 ‘copters the Pentagon had requested.

A Virginia-class attack submarine General Dynamics Electric Boat

The bill includes enough money to continue its two-a-year construction of Virginia-class subs built by Electric Boat and Newport News Shipbuilding, as well as about $85 million for advance procurement for construction of the subs. It also contains $1.9 billion to  continue work on the new Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine that also will be built by EB.

Appropriators agreed to continue funding a new stealth bomber program that will be powered by a Pratt & Whitney engine and approved about $416 million for the new CH-53K “King Stallion” heavy-lift helicopter built by Sikorsky.

Uncertainty over the federal budget has roiled the defense industry.

The stopgap measure used to fund the federal government since the Oct. 1 start of the federal fiscal year, known as a continuing resolution, funded agencies and programs, including weapons systems, at the previous year’s levels and did not allow the Pentagon to begin work on new programs.

Because of concerns a budget deal might not be reached and the stopgap funding would continue, Blumenthal and Murphy wrote Senate appropriators last week saying they were “strongly opposed” to continuing to fund the federal government through another continuing resolution.

At risk was funding for the King Stallion,” advance procurement money for the Virginia Class sub and for other new defense programs based in Connecticut.

But the omnibus bill, which is expected to be approved with the help of Democrats this week, eliminated the threat to Connecticut’s defense industry.

Money for medical research, railroads

The 1,665-page bill was released just after  2 a.m. Monday and is expected to be voted on in the House and Senate before the end of the week.

At the insistence of Democrats, the bill also contains $295.9 million to help shore up Puerto Rico’s Medicaid fund. Trump tweeted last week in opposition to what he called a “taxpayer bailout” of the island.

The bill also restores a  $73 million federal sea grant program that has provided $1.16 million to the University of Connecticut’s Sea Grant program. Trump wanted to eliminate this federal project.

A Black Hawk helicopter

The omnibus bill also boosted the budget for the National Institutes of Health by $2 billion, although the president was seeking deep cuts to the agency, and restored year-round Pell Grants for low-income college students, another program on the Trump chopping block.

The bill also contains Northeast Corridor rail improvement money.

Blumenthal and Murphy had asked for at least $500 million in NEC money to “address a yawning backlog of projects” that would help Metro-North, Amtrak and other commuter railroads.

Among the projects that could be funded with this money is the Norwalk River Bridge, an aging structure the senators said “was constructed while Grover Cleveland was president.”

The omnibus bill approved $328 million for NEC corridor projects and an additional $68 million for rail infrastructure and safety improvements.

Right after Congress is expected to finish work on the fiscal year 2017 budget, Trump plans to release details of his 2018 budget.

Courtney said it’s likely congressional Democrats will be involved in that legislation too. That means some of Trump’s priorities — and his proposed deep cuts to federal agencies — may fall by the wayside again.

“If the White House is paying attention, they will recognize there is a DNA in the way Congress is composed that makes budgets bipartisan,” Courtney said.

Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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