The House is being asked to do something today that is akin to "paying protection money to racketeers," according to one faction zeroing in on what it considers a "bailout" for Navy shipbuilders.
The Navy is not ripping off the tax-payers but instead has reached an equitable solution to a problem that has plagued three different presidents, counters the opposing group which will defend including millions in the defense bill to pay for disputed shipyard work.
This issue, and a related one to be argued today on which shipyard shoudl renovate aged aircraft carriers, provide a glimpse of the political pulling and hauling over defense decisions.
Reps. Thomas J. Downey (D.N.Y.) and Samuel S. Stratton (D.N.Y.), who seldom agree on other defense issues, are allied on this one. They have written a "Dear Colleague" letter to fellow House members urging them to delete from the defense bill the $209 million earmarked to help pay the back hills of General Dynamics' Electric Boat yard and Litton's Ingalls Shipbuilding division.
Providing the $209 million under expedited procedures would set "a dangerous and expensive precedent," according to the letter. "At stake here is the integrity of government contracts."
Allowing the Navy to take a legislative shortcut to pay the claims of Electric Boat and Ingalls "is little like yielding to terrorism or paying protection money to racketeers in the Roaring Twenties," asserted Downey and Stratton in their letter. The two urged the House to delete the $209 million and any other money that would be used to settle the claims.
Countering that "it is impossible to apportion with any degree ofaccuracy the blame for the cost overruns which led to the shipbuilding claims," another "Dear Colleague" letter defending the Navy's proposed settlement warns that "a very long and costly court battle would ensue."
Rep. Jack Edwards of Alabama, ranking Republican on the House defense appropriation subcommittee, and Chairman Robert N. Giaimo (D-Conn.) of the House Budget Committee are among the lawmakers who signed the letter urging members to "resist any attempts" to cut the shipbuilders' settlement money from the defense bill today.
"Actions by both the Navy and its contractors," the letter states, "as well as events over which either party had control, increased the cost of ship construction beyond the limits of the contracts. Under the settlement terms, both the Navy and the shipbuilders share the financial responsibility of the cost overruns."
Other signers of that letter include Democratic Rep. G. V. (Sonny) Montgomery of Mississippi, where the Ingalls shipyard is located, and Democratic Rep. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, home of Electric Boat.
This issue, like most other major defense questions, involves both an honest difference of opinion over how to get the most bang for the buck plus a basic political obligation to serve constituents - this time shipbuilders.
House today cuts the amounts the two shipbuilders said they are owed but comes to more than the Navy review board which sifted through their claims recommended.
To Electric Boat, the Navy intends to pay $359 million more than the $125 million recommended by the review board, and to Ingalls $182 million more than the recommended $265 million. The Navy has the money to pay all but $209 million, which it is seeking from Congress.
Both yards will lose millions of dollars, Navy Secretary W. Graham Claytor has said in calling the deal fair to all parties, including the taxpayers.
The related shipyard issue has been tossed a hot rivet from the White House, to the Pentagon to Congress - with the first Republican elected by the Newport News, Va., region in this century a major beneficiary of the fuss: Rep. Paul S. Trible Jr.
The question was where the Navy should send its old aircraft carriers to be renovated. Top contenders were the Philadelphia Navy Yard and the Newport News Shipbuilding Division of Tenneco.
Vice President Mondale helped politicize the issue for freshman Congressman Trible by declaring on April 14 that he was "pleased" the announce the Philadelphia yard would refurbish the carrier Saratoga. Modale linked the Saratoga work with his promise during the 1976 presidential campaign to work to keep the Frankford Arsenal in Philadelphia open.
Although the Carter Administration was unable to keep the arsenal open, said Mondale, the Navy contract to renovate the Saratoga would "alleviate the effects" of that closing.
Trible has been asserting loudly ever since that the Saratoga contract was a political award. He has produced Navy documents indicating that the Navy favored Newport News and has gotten a report from the General Accounting Office stating that this would be the less expensive way to do the work.
The congressman, who said his success to date proves "the system works," has persuaded the House Armed Services Committee to write into the defense bill to be considered today a requirement for the Navy to submit a report to Congress on which yard could do the Saratoga work for the least cost.
Rep. Jshua Eilberg (D-Pa.) has been fighting the battle of the Saratoga for the Philadelphia Navy Yard but as of last night had decided to hold his fire rather than try to remove by a House vote today the Trible requirement.