Updated at 7:00 p.m. with additional comments from Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal.
Washington – President Donald Trump’s Pentagon budget, released Monday, would increase Electric Boat’s production of Virginia-class submarines from two to three next year.
The decision to boost submarine production, mentioned in a White House budget summary, was welcomed by supporters of the Virginia-class program, but somewhat of a surprise.
Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, who represents Electric Boat and the Naval Submarine Base in New London, was part of an earlier effort to increase Virginia class production in 2022 and 2023 but was rebuffed by the White House and Pentagon.
“Today’s announcement is a welcome reversal from the Department of Defense which, just eight months ago, publicly opposed my efforts to increase fast attack submarine construction to three per year,” Courtney said.
The $750 billion Pentagon budget request for 2020 would increase military spending by 5 percent over 2019, while making sharp cuts to a number of domestic programs.
Full details of how the Pentagon plans to allocate the $750 billion will not be available until Tuesday. The Navy declined on Monday to expand on its plans for the Virginia-class program.
The Defense Department is expected to trim the number of F-35s it plans to buy in 2020. At a cost of about $8 billion, the Pentagon is expected to request 78 F-35s, which are built by Lockheed Martin. That’s down from the 84 fighter jets the Defense Department had projected to purchase in the next fiscal year.
The engine for the F-35, called the F135, is built by Pratt & Whitney.
The Pentagon is also expected to ask for eight new “advanced” F-15 jets—to be used by the Air Force and the Air National Guard. Those fighter jets are built by Boeing, whose engines are made by General Electric, and would presumably replace some of the F-35s the Air Force is projected to buy.
Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, and other members of the congressional F-35 caucus wrote Trump last week, objecting to the Defense Department’s plan to purchase the first F-15s since 2001. The F-15 has been updated, but is still not “stealthy” or as advanced as the F-35, they argued.
“Investing in ‘new’ old aircraft does not align with congressional intent, presidential direction, nor does it align with the National Defense Strategy,” the lawmakers wrote. “Bypassing the acquisition process to initiate the purchase of a cold war era plane without identifying a valid requirement, performing an analysis of alternatives, and no competition simply does not make sense.”
Agencies that would feel the brunt cuts in Trump’s budget include the Department of Education, State Department, Department of Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency.
To cut spending on mandatory safety net programs, like Medicaid and food stamps, Trump’s budget would propose new work requirements for adult recipients.
Trump’s budget would also eliminate funding for Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act that has gone to Connecticut and nearly three dozen other states over the past five years.
The budget also includes an additional $8.6 billion to build a wall between the United States and Mexico, money that would come out of the budget for the Department of Homeland Security and the Pentagon’s military construction budget.
A divided Congress is unlikely to agree to many of the proposed cuts to domestic spending and funding for the border wall.
“This budget request is dead on arrival,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. “This budgets reflect priorities, and President Trump’s priority is clearly catering to his base ahead of his re-election campaign. He includes massive cuts to programs Connecticut families rely on to pay for his tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, and a ridiculous amount of money for his border wall that no one wants.
Murphy, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, also said Democrats and Republicans on that panel “have basically ignored the president’s budget request for the past few years and came together on bipartisan government funding proposals.”
“President Trump’s budget gets a lot wrong, but it got this right.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, referring to the increase in Virginia-class submarines.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, and a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said “It would be a cold day in hell before I helped pass a budget like this.”
But Courtney, chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower subcommittee, said he would work to keep the increased submarine construction money in a final budget.
“I am prepared to do everything in my power as Chairman of the Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee to ensure that this proposal from DOD is authorized, appropriated, and signed into law,” Courtney said.
While Murphy said “overall, this budget is a disaster,” he lauded the president’s decision to increase Virginia-class submarine construction next year.
“I’ve consistently urged the Department of Defense to increase submarine production to meet the Navy’s own undersea fleet requirements,” Murphy said. “It’s one of the smartest ways we can counter adversaries like Russia and China, and it supports thousands of great jobs in Connecticut.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., was also a harsh critic of the president’s budget, especially its proposed cuts to social programs, education and environmental protections.
But he said “supporting three Virginia-class submarines a year is an extraordinary landmark for our national security and the incredibly skilled and dedicated workforce in Southeastern Connecticut.”
“President Trump’s budget gets a lot wrong, but it got this right,” Blumenthal said. “I will fight to ensure this third submarine is both authorized and appropriated during this year’s budget cycle to support the Connecticut industrial base and to provide our Navy with the submarines needed to defend our nation.”