Navy Budget Proposal Causes Commotion on Capitol Hill

Friday, February 08, 2002
Just when it seemed as though the U.S. Navy, which has served more than any other military sector as the budget whipping post in the post Cold War era, was positioned to attract long overdue funds, the budget rug was once again pulled. In proposing a Pentagon budget of $379 billion … a $48 billion increase … the Bush administration has again shorted the U.S. Navy. Reaction from Capitol Hill was swift and without censor, as lawmakers and lobbying groups weighed in with equal fury, according to numerous wire reports and hastily written press briefings. "The trend in shipbuilding worsens in this budget," said Rep. Ike Skelton, top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, according to one wire report. "The request for five new ships again falls well below replacement rates and continues the dangerous trend that will soon bring the United States to a 200-ship Navy - a level totally inadequate for the protection of sea lanes and other American interests," In another report, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, chairman of the Armed Services Committee's sea power panel, said Clinton administration plans called for building 23 new ships from 2003 through 2005, compared with the Bush administration's proposal for 17. The Navy League of the United States expressed its concern about new Navy shipbuilding construction proposed in the FY 2003 DOD Budget, claiming that only half the ships the Navy needs are slated for construction. The Navy League and other national security organizations have been advocating a shipbuilding rate of at least 10 to 12 ships per year. The funding of five ships is not only inconsistent with what the Navy has said is necessary to maintain a 300 ship fleet but is contrary to the 360 ship fleet the Navy League believes is necessary to meet the national security needs. Navy League President Timothy Fanning said, "this news of only 5 ships being funded is disappointing to our leadership, particularly when the Nation is at War and is most vulnerable. Our best defense is a good offense, which means that we must engage terrorists before they reach our shores." Defending the budget, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld reportedly told senators that the general condition of the fleet is better than expected given its age, allowing the ability to underbuild for a year or two. He also reported that the administration is fully aware that construction numbers will need to rise in the coming years. The argument didn't work. "There seems to be a pattern in which the department sincerely plans and hopes to increase ship construction rates in future years, but then ends up scaling back the plans when funding runs short,'' Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, reportedly said. (staff & wire reports)
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