House okays defense bill, but rejects Courtney’s sub bid

General Dynamics Electric Boat

A Virginia-class attack submarine

Washington – The U.S. House on Thursday rejected Rep. Joe Courtney’s bid to require the Pentagon to spend an additional $1 billion this year for additional Virginia-class submarines made by Electric Boat, a move strongly opposed by the Defense Department.

Courtney’s amendment, co-sponsored Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., to the massive, $675 billion defense spending bill was voted down 144-267. Wittman is the chairman of the House Armed Service’s sea power subcommittee and Courtney is the top Democrat on the panel.

“Subs are aging out faster than the two-per-year build rate can replace,” Courtney argued.

His amendment would have provided advance procurement money to allow the Navy to go from buying two Virginia-class submarines to three submarines in the years 2022 and 2023.

The International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers & Helpers wrote the lawmakers in support of the boost in production.

“The Navy has clearly indicated that there is capacity in the shipbuilding industrial base to build an additional submarine in both 2022 and 2023,” the letter from the labor union said. “However, this industrial base needs stability and clarity in order to provide the most cost-efficient, capable ships and submarines that the Navy requires. This amendment will provide that stability by funding the long lead materials required to support our U.S. industrial base.”

The Pentagon, however, opposed Courtney’s amendment, saying his proposal would siphon off money from other Navy shipbuilding projects.

Deputy Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan wrote members of the House Committee on Appropriations this week objecting to Courtney’s amendment.

He said the additional $1 billion Courtney tried to procure for the Virginia-class program would hurt the Pentagon’s ability to build aircraft carriers and fund Air Force research and procurement programs.

While it nixed the sub amendment, the House adopted another amendment from Wittman and Courtney that permits the Navy to procure two aircraft carriers simultaneously.

The House also gave final approval of the defense bill on Thursday on a 359-49 vote. It was supported by all five Connecticut House members. The Senate is at work on its own defense spending bill.

The defense bill would significantly boost the number of high-tech F-35s the Pentagon could buy this year. The jet fighter’s engines are made by Pratt & Whitney.

Courtney: “Subs are aging out faster than the two-per-year build rate can replace.”

The legislation includes $9.4 billion to buy 93 of the Joint Strike Fighters, which is 16 more than the 77 requested by President Donald Trump and the Pentagon.

Both the House and Senate versions of the National Defense Authorization Act call for 77 and 75 of the aircraft, respectively. All defense programs must be both authorized by Congress every year, as well as funded through the appropriations process.

The House defense spending bill also contains $1.2 billion for 58 Sikorsky-made Black Hawk helicopters and $1.1 billion for the procurement of eight Sikorsky “heavy lift” CH-53K aircraft.

The legislation also has $4.3 billion to build two more Virginia-class submarines in 2019 and an additional $2.8 billion in advanced procurement for the new Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines, which will also be constructed by Electric Boat.

Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, who has voted against defense spending bills in the past over fiscal concerns, said he voted for the latest funding bill because “it advances several important priorities for Connecticut.”

“Our state is a leader in the submarine and aerospace industry, and these industries support thousands of jobs,” Himes said. “The $674.6 billion bill includes some sections that I am uncomfortable with, such as provisions prohibiting us from closing Guantanamo Bay or transferring prisoners out of the facility, but also makes progress in other areas.”

Those include a 2.6 percent pay increase for soldiers and additional funding for sexual assault and prevention programs, as well as suicide prevention initiatives in the armed forces, Himes said.

Before passing its bill, the House adopted by voice vote an amendment from Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., to bar funding for the Pentagon to procure goods and services from ZTE and Huawei, Chinese telecommunications companies which Democrats and Republicans alike have called a risk to national security.

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