Washington – The U.S. House of Representatives is poised to throw cold water on plans to increase the rate of submarine building at Electric Boat.
That’s because a defense spending bill the House hopes to vote on Friday does not contain language or money that would allow the Navy to purchase the next block of Virginia-class submarines and increase a two-a-year production rate to three.
In the National Defense Authorization Act approved by the House earlier this month, the Navy was told that, beginning in 2019, it could enter into a multi-year contract with Electric Boat, and its partner, Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia, to procure up to 13 Virginia-class submarines “at a rate of not more than three submarines per year during the covered period.”
The plan was to increase the pace of Virginia-class submarine construction from the current two-per year to three in 2020, 2021 and 2023. In 2021, Electric Boat would build two Virginia-class subs and start the first of the new Columbia-class nuclear ballistic missile submarines.
The defense spending bill would pay for the construction of two more Virginia-class subs next year and keep the Columbia-class program on track.
But it doesn’t contain the language in the National Defense Authorization Act that would allow the ramp-up of the Virginia-class program. Nor does it contain about $943 million in advance procurement money that was in the defense authorization bill that would begin to fund increased production.
Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, has sponsored an amendment to the spending bill that would add $943 million of Virginia-class advance procurement money by tapping the National Defense Restoration Fund, a special $28.6 billion fund the House Appropriations Committee has given Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to use at his discretion.
In testimony on Tuesday before the House Rules Committee, the panel that will decide which amendments are considered on the House floor, Courtney defended the NDAA’s plans to increase submarine production – and he brought an unclassified U.S. intelligence document on the Russian Navy with him to make his point.
“I think the Armed Services Committee got it right and the Appropriations Committee…went in a different direction which I think should be corrected,” Courtney said.
He also said the money for submarine procurement in the defense authorization bill “was not a random wish list…it was the result of very hard analysis.”
Plans to increase submarine production are the result of Navy concerns that the retirement of older submarines would leave U.S. forces short of sea power. Unless submarine production is accelerated, the number of U.S. submarines will shrink from the current 52 boats to 42 in the mid-2020s.
The House is expected to vote on amendments to the defense spending bill on Wednesday evening and on Thursday.
Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, has sponsored an amendment that would increase funding for the manufacturing of renewable energy sources by $20 million. Meanwhile Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, hopes for a vote on a measure that would prohibit spending of Defense Department dollars to fund a mercenary military force in Afghanistan, a proposal promoted by some advisers to President Donald Trump.
Other Democrats hope for votes on amendments that would curb Trump’s military authority by repealing the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force that was approved by Congress after the 9/11 attacks.
The defense spending bill has been included in a security “minibus,” that includes several other appropriations bills that would fund the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs; the legislative branch, including the payrolls for members of Congress and their staff; federal energy and water projects; and construction at the nation’s military bases.
While defense bills are usually approved in Congress by bipartisan majorities, this one could face trouble.
Democrats are decrying certain “poison pill riders,” including $1.6 billion in the bill to begin work on Trump’s border wall between the United States and Mexico and a provision they say would erode clean water protections.
The Senate has not begun work on its defense spending bill.