Washington — Rep. Joe Courtney on Wednesday threw a big wrench into President Donald Trump’s plans to paint the iconic Air Force One jets red, white and blue.
During a marathon hearing of the House Armed Services Committee on a bill that will authorize Pentagon spending for 2020, Courtney, D-2nd District, introduced an amendment that restricts spending on any changes made to the white and sky-blue Boeing airplanes that have served as presidential transport since the early 1960s.
Courtney’s amendment, adopted by committee members on a 31-26 party line vote, would require congressional approval for excessive spending on “interior, paint and fixtures.”
During the debate on his amendment, Courtney assured his colleagues that his intention was not to keep the president or the Air Force from making modifications on Air Force One, but to make sure there was no excessive growth in costs or delays in schedule from last-minute design changes — and that the look of the plane remains traditional.
“We are not handcuffing the Air Force and Boeing,” Courtney said. “There is some flexibility.”
Courtney also said “additional paint can add weight to the plane, additional fixtures inside the plane can also add cost and delays to the delivery of the plane.”
Supporters of Courtney’s amendment said the plane’s look is more significant than just an individual president’s design preference, and signals that the “United States has arrived” when the president travels overseas.
“The Air Force One plane is iconic,” said Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif. “It is known throughout the world. It has been the representation of the United States, the power of the president.”
Republicans on the panel, however, said the move was a political attack by Democrats, unfairly restricting the president’s ability to make even minor decisions.
“They want to impede the president at every turn,” said Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va.
Two heavily modified Boeing 747s that serve as Air Force One have been flying the president since 1990 and are getting old. Trump negotiated a good deal with Boeing for two new planes at $3.9 billion, a cost savings of $1.4 billion.
But the contract has a clause that allows for costs “over and above” the sales price. That led to a debate over whether Trump would follow through on his off-hand remark about a year ago that he wanted a star-spangled Air Force One and to expensively redecorate the interior of the plane with gold-plated fixtures like those at his personal residences.
The Air Force said the White House is “evaluating specific red, white, and blue (paint scheme) options.”
The new presidential jets would not enter service until late 2024 or early 2025, meaning Trump would hardly get a chance to fly on them even if he won a second term.
In its markup of the National Defense Authorization Act, the House Armed Services Committee is expected to trim Trump’s request for $750 billion for the Defense Department next year to $733 billion, placing strict restrictions and requirements on the use of Pentagon resources to secure the southern border.
Like the Senate’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act, the House defense bill would authorize spending to build three Virginia class submarines, constructed jointly by Electric Boat and Newport News Shipyards, probably in the year 2023. That’s an increase from the current two-a year pact of construction of those submarines.
The defense bill would also authorize increased funding for the new Columbia-class ballistic submarine, which is in early stages of productions by Electric Boat and Newport News Shipyards.
“In testimony throughout the year, we heard time and again how important any additional submarines above the two-a-year rate would be to mitigating the submarine force structure shortfall and helping to de-risk the Columbia program as it ramps up production in the coming years,” Courtney said in his opening statement to the committee. ” Our mark authorizes the resources necessary this year to achieve this important goal.”
The House NDAA would also increase the number of F-35s the Pentagon requested, from 78 to 90. The engines for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter are built by Pratt & Whitney.
But the House NDAA would also require the Pentagon to exercise greater oversight of the F-35 program, beset with cost overruns and other problems. It would also require the Defense Department to have greater oversight of the Sikorsky made CH-53K Super Stallion helicopter program.
Production of the heavy lift copter has fallen behind due to inefficiencies in the test plan and technical problems in the design of the aircraft.
If the U. S. house approves the defense bill that is being crafted on Wednesday, it must be reconciled with the Senate’s NDAA.